Signaling what could be a significant pivot for the traditional natural gas distribution sector, Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) on Tuesday launched an initiative to open its distribution pipeline network — the nation’s largest — to renewable natural gas (RNG).

The Los Angeles-based Sempra Energy utility plans to accelerate the process for more in-state interconnections between RNG producers and the gas utility distribution network. The move is expected to encourage more RNG production facilities in California, which now has only two.

A centerpiece is an internet-based downloadable toolkit the utility has developed to assist RNG producers and developers interested in connecting their projects to the SoCalGas system.

The Los Angeles/Long Beach Ports boards recently embraced the use of RNG,a move encouraged by the utility.A SoCalGas spokesperson said like electricity, natural gas can be made from renewable sources.

“About 80% of all methane emissions in California come from dairy and farm operations, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants, and that methane can be harnessed and cleaned into RNG for use in transportation, homes and business,” she said.

Using the waste methane reduces emissions across the entire value chain, according to the Environmental Defense Fund and other environmental groups. A study, “Future Methane Emissions from the Heavy-Duty Natural Gas Transportation Sector for Stasis, High, Medium and Low Scenarios in 2035,” examines the challenge of increasing gas use in fleets, which has resulted in more fugitive methane emissions.

Since 1988, all but two RNG production projects have been developed outside California, according to RNG Coalition CEO Johannes Escudero. However, more production facilities are on the drawing board for the state, he said.

One of the issues SoCalGas is addressing in its RNG initiative is the minimum heating value requirements for gas supplies put in the utility pipeline system. Eventually these efforts should help to “decarbonize gas supply” in the state, reducing damaging climate and polluting emissions, said Bioenergy Association of California’s Julia Levin, executive director.

Separately, the California Public Utilities Commission in April approved a process for accelerating the interconnection process by allowing earlier procurement of the needed materials by the parties involved. Previously the procurement could only be done after an interconnection study had been completed and a construction agreement executed.

A University of California, Davis, study estimated that gas needs of around 2.4 million California homes could be fueled with RNG derived from the state’s existing organic waste stream alone. Currently, 60% of the fuel used in California’s natural gas vehicles (NGV) is RNG, and SoCalGas expects that portion to increase to 90% next year. “This can help reduce the need for other fossil-based fuels, and increase our supplies with a local renewable fuel,” the spokesperson said.

SoCalGas’ Lisa Alexander, vice president of customer solutions, said RNG is a key for California achieving its aggressive air quality and climate change goals. “RNG also will help transform the state’s transportation sector which accounts for 80% of smog-forming pollution,” she said.

As part of its role, SoCalGas plans to build and operate more RNG interconnection facilities throughout the state. By the end of summer, SoCalGas plans to complete its first RNG interconnection project in Perris, CA, in Riverside County. The joint project with CR&R Environmental Inc. includes a 1.4-mile pipeline linked to an anaerobic digestion facility.