To reach carbon neutrality by 2050, Charlottesville Gas eyes cleaner options

FILE - In this Jan. 11, 2006 file photo, a gas-lit flame burns on a natural gas stove in...
FILE - In this Jan. 11, 2006 file photo, a gas-lit flame burns on a natural gas stove in Stuttgart, Germany. (AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle, File)(Thomas Kienzle | AP)
Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 11:48 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Monday, Charlottesville City Council took a look at something it provides to more than 21,000 people in the area and has been doing so for more than 150 years -- natural gas.

Charlottesville is one of only three municipalities in Virginia that also owns and operates a gas utility. Now, it’s looking at how that can be aligned with its climate change goals without added cost for customers.

“We recognize in the short term, the Charlottesville Gas has continued to participate in the carbon offset program as well as promote our energy efficiency programs. But we also recognize we need to look for the long term,” Director of Utilities Lauren Hildebrand said.

The long term is where Dr. Hua Fang comes in. She’s part of a consulting firm the city has hired to come up with greener solutions to reach its goal of a 45% reduction in community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2050. A link to the presentation can be found here.

First, the firm is researching what the legal options are.

“Looking at the ban that was undertaken by some cities around the country that ban new natural gas distribution or new natural gas connection, whether that’s legal,” Fang explained.

Then, it will look at options that include electrification, carbon offsets, renewable natural gas, and zero carbon hydrogen.

Each option will be evaluated based on three things -- impact on emissions, reliability of service, and cost to customers.

“We don’t want to create a situation where you have rich customers leaving the system and saddling the customer, the poor customers with less means, paying for an increase in cost. We want to balance the two,” Fang said.

The meeting with council on March 20 is just the start of what Fang says is a yearslong process. It’s a timeline some councilors hope can be sped up to potentially save customers thousands of dollars.

“One of my concerns about the timeline is there’s billions of dollars, including for programs specifically for municipally-owned utilities. And that totally changes the cost-benefit analysis. And if we’re not pursuing that, we’re going to miss out on those opportunities,” Councilor Michael Payne said.

The firm says it will work with the city to move up the timeline and provide quarterly updates on its findings.

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