Gas utility commits to net zero by 2050

DTE will need help from customers with energy efficiency, emissions offsets.
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DTE Energy announced an expansion of its 2050 net zero goal to include its gas subsidiary.

DTE Gas recently pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero with all methane and carbon emissions by 2050 — from procurement through to delivery.

DTE Gas also will amplify its net zero commitment by partnering with customers to address up to 100% of their own natural gas carbon footprint with programs that encourage energy efficiency and participation in the company’s voluntary emissions offset program.

The plan expands on DTE’s 2018 commitment to reduce methane emissions by 80%. Last September, the company also announced a goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 in its electric company.

“We already had 80% methane reduction with our own pipes that we operate, and what we started to think about was how do we take an industry leading position on an issue that’s defining our time, which is climate change, and how we can work to drive those carbon emissions way down,” said Jerry Norcia, president and CEO of DTE Energy.

DTE also plans to purchase only from vendors that also have goals to get to net zero by 2050. Part of this is promising to eliminate all leaks, large or small, in pipes that are emitting methane into the atmosphere, which Norcia said is about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“Then when you drill for wells a lot of methane is released during the drilling process, but our most progressive producers have come up with ways to recapture that methane to make sure it doesn’t get into the atmosphere,” Norcia said.

The company also will encourage customers to reduce their own emissions by 35% through a combination of continued energy efficiency programs and offering customers a carbon offset product on a voluntary basis.

Once the carbon offset product is approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission, customers will be able to reduce their carbon emissions by 25% for $4 per month, or by 100% for $16 per month, with offsets DTE would purchase, Norcia said.

“The biggest impact is really making sure people’s homes are as efficient as possible, so the appliances they use are high efficiency appliances,” Norcia said. “That reduces usage a lot.”

Norcia said building codes and higher-end appliances have reduced the energy use per customer by 30-40% in the U.S. since the 1960s.

“The other thing is influencing behavior,” Norcia said. “Your biggest opportunity right now is if you got a really efficient home and high efficiency furnace, your next opportunity is to turn down your thermostat at night and use less energy in the evenings.”

Over time, DTE Gas also will leverage advanced technologies, such as hydrogen and carbon capture. The utility’s pipes already can accommodate a blend of natural gas and hydrogen, but this effort will emerge more in the 2030s, Norcia predicted.

“I think we will have a significant hydrogen stream in our pipes (by 2050),” Norcia said. “I don’t know if it will be 100% … but I can see our power plants running on 100% hydrogen.”

DTE owns about 200,000 miles of high-pressure pipes and another 20,000 miles of low-pressure pipes nationwide.

The company’s net zero commitment, combined with customer participation in sustainability programs offered by DTE, is expected to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by more than 6 million metric tons by 2050. This reduction is the equivalent of offsetting the natural gas emissions of 1 million homes or taking 1.3 million cars off the road annually.

Matthew Paul, president and CEO for DTE Gas, said the dollar investment is going to be modest because replacing new pipes already is in line with the company’s commitment to safety and reliability.

“With the customer, it’s a voluntary program, so those who choose to sign up will have that incremental cost, but in terms of overall cost, it would be pretty small,” Paul said.

DTE Gas serves about 1.3 million customers — residential, commercial and industrial — in Michigan.

In the longer term, as DTE gets into renewable and natural gas projects, it might incur more costs to meet the final stretch of its goal and there may be some modest costs associated with it, Paul said.

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