John O'Brien, Washington Gas executive vice president of strategy and public affairs
John O'Brien, Washington Gas executive vice president of strategy and public affairs

In the movie “The Martian,” Matt Damon’s astronaut character looked around at his predicament and declared that he would have to “science” his way out of it. Likewise, Washington Gas’ approach to addressing climate change has always been based on the leading science, for both understanding and determining our actions.

In 2011, we committed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from our fleet, facilities and distribution system. By 2016, we had reduced our own emissions 74 percent and the emissions intensity associated with the delivery of each unit of natural gas by 20%. We then pledged further reductions, in line with the global consensus in the Paris Agreement to make our fleet and facilities carbon neutral and to further reduce emissions intensity to 38% by 2025. Our annual measurements since then, which are all verified by an independent auditor, show us on track to meet those commitments.

When AltaGas and Washington Gas merged in 2018, we made a commitment to develop and share a long-range climate business plan that would demonstrate how Washington Gas could help the District meet its ambitious climate goals. After months of study, collaboration with experts and exploration of new and emerging opportunities to reduce emissions, we presented the plan to the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia on March 16, 2020. It is available for public review on their website at as well as the Washington Gas website at We also plan to host regular public meetings in the future to share our progress and gather stakeholder input.

The Plan covers everything from fuel sourcing to distribution all the way through to customer end use, and it supports the District goals with Washington Gas doing its share; reducing emissions associated with natural gas 50% by 2032 and being carbon neutral by 2050. The Plan supports customer energy choice and presents a framework of options and specific tactics that combine to achieve the targeted emissions reductions.

While some people may think that it is impossible to meet these climate goals while continuing to use natural gas, the science shows it not only is possible, but that it is highly beneficial to the District. Natural gas costs less and is critical to maintaining the reliability and resiliency of the District’s energy delivery system. While we propose changing the mix of the gas we deliver to include carbon neutral renewable natural gases — including biogas and green hydrogen — this change will be undetectable to our customers who will still be able to continue to use their existing equipment and appliances.

By using new materials and technologies, we can and will reduce emissions from our distribution system. Lastly, incredibly high-efficient appliances and equipment are in development (some are already available) so that when people want or need to change out a stove, water heater or heating/cooling system, they can take advantage of the energy cost savings those new technologies provide.

We are also looking at encouraging conservation of energy through energy efficiency programs that add to — but do not compete with — those available from the DC Sustainable Energy Utility.

Washington Gas has evolved over the more than 170 years that we have provided energy to District residents, businesses, agencies and organizations. There is no better symbol of how far we have come than how we have served our very first customer. We started out in 1848 using gas to light the Capitol Dome. Today a modern, highly efficient Combined Heat and Power (CHP) installation provides both heat (for warmth) and electricity (to light that landmark dome with high-intensity discharge (HID) fixtures. And, tomorrow, that same plant may be running on renewable natural gas, making it carbon neutral or even possibly carbon negative.

Supporting Customers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Washington Gas’ commitment to sustainability goes beyond the environment. We have committed to help our customers who may be experiencing financial difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have made contributions to non-profit groups that are providing critical safety net services. We have waived late fees and suspended disconnections during this time. We are also taking necessary precautions to ensure the well-being of our employees, customers and the communities we serve by following all safety protocols and practicing safe social distancing. We also continue to provide funding to help customers pay their energy bills through WAFF (the Washington Area Fuel Fund). Visit WAFFHelp.Org for more information.

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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