Apr 6, 2023 - News

Richmond’s natural gas quandary

Illustration of a sad face with gas stove burners as the eyes.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

A push to wind down the city’s natural gas business is facing its first real test.

Why it matters: The mayor and city council signed onto a pledge to go carbon neutral by 2050 at the beginning of the year, but the city continues to actively expand its natural gas utility, Richmond Gas Works.

What’s happening: City Councilwoman Katherine Jordan, backed by local environmentalists, is pushing to include $200,000 in the city budget to study how the city might “phase out reliance on gas” in favor of renewable resources.

  • The move would follow in the footsteps of Charlottesville, which recently hired a consultant to study how it might phase out its own municipal gas utility, per VPM’s Patrick Larson.

Flashback: The city council has been talking about jettisoning Richmond Gas Works since 2021, when a separate climate resolution observed “the continued operation of the City’s gas utility is an obstacle to the City’s goal of Net-Zero emissions.”

  • The move prompted Republicans in the General Assembly to propose legislation that would have banned the city from shuttering the utility, but it was blocked by Democrats, per the Virginia Mercury.

The intrigue: The city’s Department of Public Utilities, which operates Richmond Gas Works, so far does not appear to be taking the proposition very seriously.

  • It is actively expanding into the surrounding counties and has plans to spend millions to upgrade existing infrastructure.

During a council meeting last month, Jordan pressed representatives of DPU about whether it would be cheaper to pay for customers to electrify appliances instead of replacing old service lines.

  • Billy Vaughan, the utility’s director for finance, said the department hadn’t considered that as an option.
  • That’s despite the fact that the pledge the city formally adopted in February explicitly calls for the city to “divert investment in gas utility upgrades to all-electric conversions.”

What’s next: The city council is scheduled to vote on budget amendments, including the gas plan, next week.


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