California regulators on Thursday created a program to capture biomethane gas from dairy-produced manure to process into renewable natural gas (RNG).

At least five pilot projects to capture and process biomethane gas to RNG were authorized unanimously by the five-member California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).  Regulators are touting RNG as a replacement for using traditional natural gas.

The pilots would be determined by a interagency committee with representatives from the CPUC, California Air Resources Board and the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture. Projects are to be selected based on evaluating proposed business models, which are to include estimated greenhouse gas emissions reductions, cost effectiveness, environmental benefits, disadvantaged community benefits and project readiness.

The program, authorized in state Senate Bill 1383, calls for biomethane projects to be connected to the natural gas pipeline grid.

"This program helps turn a waste product into renewable energy," said CPUC’s Clifford Rechtschaffen, the assigned commissioner for the case. "In addition to reducing emissions of methane, the pilot projects will help improve air and water quality in the Central Valley and other regions of the state."

SB 1383 established a goal of reducing methane emissions statewide by 40% by 2030. Manure is the source of 26% of California’s methane emissions.

CPUC's decision to pilot the program varies from historic state policies regarding utility pipeline systems. In the case of geologic natural gas, producers are responsible for all gathering pipelines and conditioning infrastructure to get pipeline quality gas to an interconnection.

In the case of the dairy pilot projects, the utility would own and operate all facilities downstream of the biogas conditioning and upgrading facilities, including pipeline laterals. The CPUC is restricting rate recovery to pipelines and related equipment, foreclosing the inclusion of any truck transportation of biomethane as "pipeline equivalent."

"Trucking related costs will not be considered part of the 'pipeline infrastructure' in relation to the pilot projects,” the CPUC order stated.