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Manure to fuel? CenterPoint wants to sell you 'renewable' natural gas

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Some of Breitkreutz' 290 cattle.
Cattle on a farm in rural Redwood Falls, Minn.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News File

Methane is one of the worst greenhouse gases out there for climate change — almost 30 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

But if Centerpoint Energy has its way, some of the would-be pollutant will become a renewable form of natural gas for customers in Minnesota.

The utility submitted plans Thursday for a pilot program to sell renewable natural gas to its Minnesota customers. It's one of the first U.S. companies to try such a program.

If the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission signs off on the plan, CenterPoint could sell renewable natural gas in Minnesota next spring.

To create the renewable natural gas, methane is gathered from sources like decomposed landfill trash, manure or decomposing crops. It's then processed and refined into a form that's chemically identical to traditional natural gas.

Most methane produced is released into the air directly or burnt off, adding greenhouse gases to the air either way. Harnessing it as fuel would reduce those emissions.

Renewable natural gas would be more expensive than traditional natural gas at about $3.89 per therm compared to about 62 cents per therm. CenterPoint customers would decide how much to spend on the renewable natural gas each month, if the plan moves forward.

The reason to switch is for the environment. CenterPoint says swapping in renewable natural gas decreases greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent.

"We've heard from our customers that they want to have options for how they get their energy and that many of them are interested in using more renewable energy," Nick Mark, CenterPoint's manager of conservation and renewable energy policy, said in a statement. "I'm excited to roll out this innovative program for Minnesota customers interested in supporting renewable forms of energy."