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January 28, 2020

Renewable natural gas is now available to Philly residents

The alternative fuel, also known as biogas, is captured from landfills, water treatment plants, and other waste facilities

Renewable natural gas is now an alternate fuel option for all PGW and PECO customers.

The service is available through The Energy Co-op, a cooperative started by the city's popular Weavers Way Co-op in 1979. Previously, renewable natural gas from The Energy Co-op had only been available to co-op members, but the program is expanding.

Renewable natural gas – also known RNG, biogas or biomethane — is produced when organic materials decompose. It is collected from landfills, water treatment plants, and other waste facilities.

Proponents of the alternate fuel tout that RNG can be extracted without drilling or fracking, unlike fossil-based natural gas, thus eliminating the environmental risk associated with the mining process.

"Offering Philadelphians the option to heat their homes and cook with (renewable natural gas) not only helps reduce drilling and fracking both in Pennsylvania and elsewhere," The Energy Co-Op's Executive Director Ronald Fisher said on Monday, "but it serves as an incentive to facility operators to capture and put waste gas to good use."

Making the switch does not require any new appliances or the installation of new pipelines. It simply requires signing up for it, which can be done through The Energy Co-op's enrollment site

RNG is more expensive. The Energy Co-op lists lists the cost for PGW customers as 69.5 cents per 100 cubic feet, and for PECO customers, it is 77.75 cents per 100 cubic feet.

Compare that to the fossil-based natural gas rates listed on the Pennsylvania Utility Commission's website: 49.3 cents per 100 cubic feet for PGW customers and 40.97 cents per 100 cubic feet for PECO customers.

And customers who sign up for biogas won't actually receive natural gas that's any different than what is supplied their neighbors who don't sign up for it. Oscar Serpell, of the University of Pennsylvania's Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, told WHYY even though customers in The Energy Co-op program will not be receiving the renewable natural gas in their homes, the investment into its production offsets extracting it from traditional sources.

Serpell explained:

“If you purchase through this program a number of cubic feet or renewable natural gas equal to your consumption of natural gas, you’re canceling out your emissions by reducing emissions elsewhere ... Provided that you’re getting the renewable natural gas from waste that’s already produced, it is a very good way of producing carbon-free heat.”

The Energy Co-op has offered members the opportunity to purchase  renewable electricity for 20 years. The renewable natural gas program started a decade ago, originally being offered to members who were PECO customers. 

Philly-area residents who want to compare gas rates can find more information on PaGasSwitch, the state's official natural gas shopping website.