Dominion Energy pledges net zero carbon emissions by 2050

FILE - In this March 31, 2017, file photo, Dairy cattle feed at a farm near Vado, New Mexico. Virginia-based Dominion Energy and Vanguard Renewables Ag of Massachusetts announced in January 2020 a $200 million partnership to convert methane from cow manure into renewable natural gas. The money will fund projects at dairy farms in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Georgia. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)

One of the nation’s largest retail energy suppliers, serving 1 million natural gas customers in Utah, is committing to drastic cuts in emissions blamed for climate change.

On Tuesday, Dominion Energy announced plans to reduce methane emissions, which have a much larger climate impact pound for pound than carbon dioxide, from its natural gas operations by 80% of its 2010 levels by 2040. It also plans to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050, meaning it will invest in various renewable energy projects that will capture as much methane as its operations are still putting out.

“Dominion Energy already has made important progress on emissions. This new commitment sets an even higher bar that I am confident we can — and will — reach," Thomas F. Farrell, Dominion’s CEO, said in a news release. "Net zero emissions will be good for all of our stakeholders — for our customers, communities, employees and investors.”

The Virginia-based company asserts its emission-reduction targets are among the “boldest” in the U.S. energy sector.

Under previous commitments, according to the announcement, the company has already trimmed carbon emissions by half its 2005 levels and methane emissions by a quarter of its 2010 levels.

Dominion provides gas or electrical power to 7 million customers in 18 states. It supplies all of Utah with natural gas except for a handful of cities that either have no service or get their gas from an independent system. It has no electrical customers in Utah.

To achieve net zero emissions, Dominion plans to extend the operations of its nuclear power-generating fleet and develop wind and solar sources of power. The company is investing $700 million toward capturing methane coming off decomposing manure produced at hog farms and dairies, including operations in Utah, then supplying the gas to customers.

The reduced methane emissions resulting from the dairy projects, built and operated in partnership with Vanguard Renewables, will be equivalent to removing 100,000 cars from the road, according to Dominion’s news release.

Dominion is also expected to buy methane captured from Utah’s Bayview Landfill near Elberta, operated by a consortium of six waste management districts called the Northern Utah Environmental Resource Agency.

Landfills and livestock are leading sources of methane emissions in the United States; about half the gas coming from decomposing municipal waste is methane, and the rest is primarily carbon dioxide. The Bayview methane project, now the subject of a lawsuit the would-be developer has brought against the management districts, would capture the gases produced in the 650-acre landfill and process the methane.

According to attorneys for WRH Bayview, the developer of the methane project, this gas would be worth up to $10 million annually.

“The environmentally friendly gas is also slated to replace diesel fuel and fossil gas burned in local mining trucks, trains, airport buses, school buses and other heavy vehicles in the Wasatch Valley,” the firm’s lawyers wrote in an email. Bayview’s suit, filed last month in Salt Lake City’s U.S. District Court, alleges the Utah waste management districts illegally tried to push it out of the lucrative project in an effort to develop it themselves.

In addition to buying gas from Bayview Landfill and farms, Dominion plans to support emission reductions in other areas, particularly transportation, by promoting greater use of electric school buses and powering freight-hauling trucks and ships with liquid and compressed natural gas and hydrogen instead of diesel.

Whether Dominion’s emission targets are achieved, those goals at least acknowledge that carbon buildup in the atmosphere poses a threat to global climate systems and that industries associated with fossil fuels have a responsibility to act.