Orange Cove partners on SoCalGas eco-project

Southern California Gas Company officially partners with Orange Cove on its hydrogen blending demonstration project to help cut California carbon emissions

Orange Cove Mayor Pro Tem Gilbert Garcia and Mayor Diana Guerra Silva listen to presentations from potential trash collection contractors at the Orange Cove City Council meeting Feb. 28, 2024. (Serena Bettis)
Serena Bettis
Published March 7, 2024  • 
11:00 am

ORANGE COVE – The Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) selected the city of Orange Cove for its hydrogen blending demonstration project, highlighting the small city’s potential to aid in reducing California’s carbon emissions. 

SoCalGas Public Affairs Manager Miguel Ramirez surprised the Orange Cove City Council with the announcement during public comment at the meeting on Feb. 28. SoCalGas has been working with the council and city for months to see if it would make a good candidate for the project, but Orange Cove’s official involvement was not definite 

“This is big,” Mayor Diana Guerra Silva said. “This is not just a little something that Southern Cal is doing to Orange Cove; this is gonna change the scope of Orange Cove.”

SoCalGas first publicly presented its hydrogen blending demonstration project to residents at the beginning of November last year. As previously reported by the Mid Valley Times, the project is intended to show how public utilities can incorporate clean fuels into existing energy infrastructure. 

Before the project can begin, SoCalGas has to receive approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). 

In a March 1 press release, the utility announced it submitted its application to the CPUC along with three other utilities — San Diego Gas & Electric Co., Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southwest Gas Corp. — and said a decision could come “as early as next winter.” 

Ramirez said the submission of the application started a regulatory process that could last a couple of months. He told the council that he would come back to Orange Cove during public comment every so often to keep the city updated with what is going on with the CPUC.

“In the meantime, I am committed to continue working with you and the community in engagement opportunities and to educate the community about the project,” Ramirez said. “SoCalGas has had a long, strong working relationship with the city of Orange Cove over the years, and we’re excited to be working with you on this innovative project.”

SoCalGas is also partnering with the University of California, Irvine to use hydrogen blending for its Anteater Recreation Center.

A pivotal project

In order to meet the state’s directive of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, utilities across California are researching ways to provide customers with power that comes from clean and renewable energy sources in a manner that is safe, feasible and cost-effective. 

According to the SoCalGas presentation in November, the framework for a hydrogen blending demonstration project came from a report conducted by the University of California Riverside that said the best way to set statewide hydrogen blending standards would be to test and show a real-life application of hydrogen blending. 

Currently, the state is looking for a “hydrogen injection standard,” or the percentage of hydrogen gas that can be blended with the natural gas infrastructure.

While utilities have been testing the production of clean hydrogen gas and hydrogen blending in labs and through smaller-scale projects, a demonstration of hydrogen blending in real-world conditions needs to happen before the CPUC sets the injection standard and the practice is more widely adopted.

Hydrogen blending is a multistep process that ultimately reduces the greenhouse gas emissions that come from burning natural gas. By reducing these emissions, utilities are able to continue to provide their customers with much-needed energy while lessening the negative impact greenhouse gasses have on the local and global environment. 

First, clean hydrogen gas is created through an electrolysis process, which is carbon-neutral so long as other clean energy sources, such as solar power, are used in the process. Then, the hydrogen gas — which unlike other natural gasses does not emit carbon when combusted — is mixed into the natural gas infrastructure. 

When this occurs, less natural gas is needed to provide power to utility customers and the overall carbon content of the natural gas infrastructure decreases. 

With the demonstration project in Orange Cove, SoCalGas will incrementally blend hydrogen gas into the city’s infrastructure, delivering the gas to residential and commercial properties. The project would likely begin with a small concentration of 0.1% of hydrogen blended into the infrastructure and end with a concentration of 5% after around 18 months.

In November, SoCalGas said that if the CPUC approves the project by late 2024, the construction and duration of the project would likely occur between 2025 and 2028.

“I really thank God, I thank you, Miguel, you have worked really hard, … and I’m just so thankful, I don’t think there’s enough words to express how I feel than that gratitude,” Guerra Silva said at the Feb. 28 meeting. “It’s coming to Orange Cove; people are gonna know about it, they’re gonna be coming to Orange Cove, they’re gonna have itchy ears and … see what Orange Cove is all about.”

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter