Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) last Thursday issued a request for information (RFI) to identify partners for a demonstration project reviewing technologies to produce biomethane. The cow dung-to-usable gas process can produce pipeline-quality natural gas, according to PG&E. Earlier in the month the Silicon Valley suburb of Palo Alto, CA, issued a request for proposals (RFP) seeking marketing and administrative help to expand its green energy programs to "green gas" and renewable energy credit (REC) segments.

Both the private- and the public-sector utilities are putting more emphasis on biomass as a greenhouse gas emissions-reducing alternative for producing electricity.

PG&E has scheduled a forum on March 5 to answer questions about the RFI and provide the chance to meet some potential project partners. Firms and individuals wanting to register for the forum can do so online until Feb. 22 at www.pge.com under "Pipeline" and "RFI." Palo Alto will hold a pre-proposal teleconference Wednesday (Jan. 30) for prospective bidders, and bids are due Feb. 12 with a projected May 1 start for winning bidders.

PG&E officials see "tremendous opportunity" to capture gas from biomass as a means of meeting the state's climate change emission-reduction goals. "With the RFI, we hope to identify promising biomethanation technologies and understand what the market needs for support," said PG&E's Fong Wan, vice president for energy procurement.

It is PG&E's contention that in California and throughout the West there are large quantities of biomass, which could make a significant contribution to meeting California renewable energy portfolio goals, along with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, aiding wildfire prevention efforts and improving air quality and landfill disposal reductions.

With a city peak load of 190 MW and natural gas utility service also for its base of 28,000 customers, Palo Alto Utilities is seeking proposals from qualified firms to provide "professional services for marketing and administrative support services" in the city-run utility's "Palo Alto Green" program.

In addition, the city said it was asking bidders who want to go further to provide separately priced options to provide RECs for the city's Green Program, and/or develop and implement a voluntary renewable biogas retail program for the city's natural gas utility customers.

The bids sought are for five years overall; an initial one-year contract, with four one-year options to renew.

In August the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved a 10-year contract between PG&E and Microgy Inc. for up to 2.8 Bcf of "renewable natural gas. "

Biomethane is pipeline-quality gas derived from biomass as defined by the California Energy Commission (CEC). The state's definition includes any organic material not derived from fossil fuels, including agricultural crops, agricultural and forestry wastes/ residues and construction wood wastes, among others. The other step -- biomethanation -- is the process of converting biomass to biomethane.

PG&E expects that emerging technologies in this field eventually may increase conversion efficiency, expand the range of useful feedstock and improve the quality of biomethane products.

"[Palo Alto] currently meets [green] program demand using a combination of renewable energy supplies from long-term power purchase agreements between Palo Alto and wholesale renewable electric power suppliers, and RECs from the California Energy Commission's approved eligible renewable resources," the RFP said.

"The city does not currently offer a similar program for natural gas," but the RFP indicated that it has identified potential vendors capable of supplying nonfossil biogas "converted from biological sources such as manure, landfill gas or biomass." Palo Alto officials see the gas program as a potential means to give residents a chance to voluntarily choose a gas supply program that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with natural gas use.

Palo Alto launched its voluntary green power program five years ago, and since then it has achieved what the city characterized as the "highest participation rate of any green power program" in the nation as reported by the U.S. Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

After beginning in 2003 with a 5.1% participation rate, representing 0.5% of its annual sales, the Palo Alto program at mid-2007 had a 22% participation rate among its customers, representing 45,316 MWh annually, or 4.5% of the city's total annual sales in 2007.

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