The natural gas industry has bet billions of dollars that it can extend its life indefinitely as a “transition fuel” away from coal-fired electricity to carbon-free power sources.
Now that renewables are eating away at natural gas’s share of the electricity market, gas companies are trying to barricade themselves in homes across the United States, hoping to slow the shift of gas stoves and heating systems. to cleaner alternatives will preserve a bastion of profit.
In nearly two dozen states, this has resulted in successful lobbying to ban cities from banning gas hookups in new buildings and forcing developers to go all-electric. But in Colorado, the nation’s largest gas-only utility has launched a new front group aimed at waging war on even modest proposals to push ratepayers toward electrification.
Coloradans for Energy Access, an industry-run nonprofit that seeks to redefine gas company concerns as grassroots activism, is taking aim at a proposal that state regulators consider ending subsidies for the new gas lines as part of the Centennial State. goal halve the production of greenhouse gases by the end of this decade.
HuffPost audio obtained from an internal Coloradans meeting for Energy Access held last month revealed that Texas-based utility Atmos Energy plays a pivotal role in the group.
“Glad to be here on behalf of Coloradans for Energy Access. My full-time job, just so you all know, I work for Atmos Energy,” said Jennifer Altieri, VP of Public Relations of Atmos Energy, in a recording of the presentation Feb. 7. “We’re the largest natural gas-only distributor in the country. That’s all we do.”
Those last four words strike at the heart of a widening rift in America’s utility industry, which is the nation’s second-largest source of climate emissions after automobiles. Some companies that sell both natural gas and electricity ― including major utilities in New York and California ― have begun to realize that decarbonization will mean an increase in their electricity sales at the expense of their business. gas, as taxpayers trade in gas stoves, furnaces and appliances for electric alternatives.
But the pillars of gas dug deeper. Instead of directing money towards creating new electricity-friendly revenue streams, these utilities are investing millions to fight any change to the status quo, despite clear warnings from scientists that this dooms US efforts to curb global warming.
“People are starting to rally around eliminating gas burning in their homes across the country,” said Rachel Golden, director of the carbon-free building program at the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute. “As fossil fuel companies see this progress, they are investing millions to form these front groups to fight back and preserve their business.”
Since a website and an opinion piece in The Colorado Sun went live in January, Coloradans for Energy Access has opposed a proposal before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to remove subsidies for new gas lines and accelerating the state’s shift to electrical appliances. its priority. The regulator is holding a hearing on the proposal on Monday.
Although gas advocates say not subsidizing industry expansion will make gas more expensive, proponents of moving away from fossil fuels say building more gas lines forces customers to using more for decades a fuel whose pollution and volatile price fluctuations can be easily avoided with modern technologies. Technology. The concern over the highly technical issue highlights the true nature of the group’s constituency, said Amy Turner, senior fellow at Columbia University’s Sabin Center on Climate Change Law.
“It’s not a topical issue of a ban on natural gas or imposing electricity policies or even net metering,” Turner said. “These are very, very weedy niches. Someone must have done a lot of work to identify these political elements and mobilize the opposition against them.
Atmos Energy, a nearly $16 billion company, has partnered in this effort with FTI Consulting, the central consulting firm behind many other fossil fuel industry propaganda campaigns. FTI employees have worked on Energy in Depth and Western Wire, two pro-fossil fuel blogs disguised as journalism outlets.
Washington, D.C.-based FTI has also engineered, staffed, or even run a network of fake grassroots groups with names like Texans for Natural Gas, the Arctic Energy Center, and the Main Street Investors Coalition that the New York Times, in an investigation of the fossil fuel work, describes it as deliberately appearing “to be separate efforts to amplify local voices or speak for ordinary people.”
During the nearly 50-minute call in February, William Allison, Senior Director of FTI, said Coloradans for Energy Access’s goal was to “protect and preserve access to natural gas in the State and to “make sure people have that choice and that freedom.” to choose the energy that suits them best.
Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, also backs the group, as do a slew of unions that work on fossil fuel projects. Some groups of homebuilders – who argue that designing houses and apartments for electrical appliances increases costs, despite the fact that retrofitting these buildings to go electric after construction costs significantly more dear – are also part of the coalition.
Atmos Energy did not respond to a request for comment. FTI Consulting spokesman Matthew Bashalany declined to “comment, confirm or deny any client engagements or reports of client engagements,” but directed HuffPost to Gary Arnold, a labor union executive from Colorado pipe fitters which is part of Coloradans for Energy Access.
“Coloradans for Energy Access is a member-driven and member-funded organization focused on educating the public about the critical role natural gas plays today in reducing emissions and keeping families warm at home. “Wrote Arnold, business manager of Denver Pipefitters Local 208, in an email. “Natural gas ― and the infrastructure that supports it ― provides good jobs [and] canned [costs] low in homes and workplaces.
A war on many fronts
The launch of Coloradans for energy access comes as local gas utilities have found increasingly clever ways to disrupt policies aimed at promoting electrification, which advocates say is essential not only to eliminate the 13% of emissions emitted by American buildings, but also to reduce the shame indoor air pollution from gas stoves and heaters harms human health.
Late last year, Oklahoma Natural Gas, the state’s largest gas supplier, urged regulators to allow it to impose an “exit fee” on ratepayers who leave gas service to switch to electric, forcing them to pay off up to $1,400 of the company’s debt.
St. Louis-based Spire Energy, a $3.5 billion gas company, last month attempted to torpedo a proposal in the next set of generic US building codes to expand electric vehicle charging in commercial structures. The move came nearly three years after gas utilities teamed up to remove a series of pro-electrification provisions from the latest set of U.S. building codes.
On the call, Atmos’ Altieri brags about helping pass pro-gas legislation in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kansas and Kentucky, which she described as “beautiful future states”.
“It’s been very successful,” she said, but noted that Colorado’s “complexities” show “the urgent need for a coalition like this to not have just one voice, services gas utilities out there or just propane, there must be multiple voices that are there to protect our products.