Not Just A Pipe Dream: Non-Pipeline Alternative Framework, Analysis and Experiences

November 15, 2023

States are increasingly interested in gas distribution system planning and the role that demand-side resources can play in maintaining an affordable, reliable, equitable, and low-carbon energy system. In particular, public utility commissions and utilities are exploring the role of non-pipeline alternatives (NPA) – an investment or activity that defers, reduces, or avoids the need to construct or replace a pipeline – in gas distribution system planning. 

NPAs are an emerging cost and risk mitigation tool that can provide gas utilities with an opportunity to reduce emissions, gas system costs, and customer risk by avoiding unnecessary infrastructure spending. Rather than address system issues with more costly and long-lived traditional capital projects, utilities can leverage demand-side NPA resources such as energy efficiency and electrification as well as supply-side NPA resources to meet system needs.

However, there is limited guidance on performing an NPA and even fewer lessons learned. To fill this gap, the U.S. Department of Energy funded two reports on NPAs. The first report is a literature review that focuses on four states NPA policies. The second report offers a framework for evaluating NPAs that state can adapt to meet their policy needs.

Berkeley Lab presents a free webinar on December 4, 2023, at 11:30 a.m. PT/ 2:30 p.m. ET to learn about themes in state NPA guidance and a new framework to evaluate NPAs. Presenters include:

  • Natalie Mims Frick, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • Brad Cebulko, Strategen
  • Colorado Public Utility Commission representative
  • Northwest Natural representative

Register for the webinar at https://lbnl.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_8wtDMU-wSJSoP6XCDKg-ng.

Researchers will discuss the new reports (https://emp.lbl.gov/publications/framework-non-pipeline-alternatives) Non-Pipeline Alternatives to Natural Gas Utility Infrastructure: An Examination of Existing Regulatory Approaches and Non-Pipeline Alternatives: A Regulatory Framework and a Case Study of Colorado. The first report summarizes the definitions, filing requirements, approach to identifying NPA projects, and analysis used to determine if the projects are cost-effective and equitable for four states (California, Colorado, New York and Rhode Island).

The second report discusses a framework that states can use to evaluate NPAs (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Three-Step NPA Framework

The report illustrates the NPA process through a decision tree that walks through each of the steps identified in the framework (Figure 2).

Figure 2. NPA Decision Tree 

The report authors are Ron Nelson, Bradley Cebulko, Thomas Van Hentenryck, and Erin Mettler, Strategen; and Natalie Mims Frick, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office and the Office of Policy supported this work.