Environmental Efforts

Our dedication to protecting and improving the environment and fostering a sustainable energy future is one that is shared by both our customers and employees alike.

20% by 2025

In the 2019 Sustainability Report, the Company highlighted a priority to reduce our carbon footprint. Using baselines established in 2015, Southwest committed to achieving a goal of a 20% overall reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fleet, building facilities and other initiatives by 2025. Southwest continues to implement sustainable practices in our fleet and building facilities management to help curtail our environmental impact. We are happy to report that these efforts have helped us reach a milestone in this journey as we pass the halfway mark toward this overall reduction. 

In managing nearly 1,600 vehicles, Southwest is continuously introducing clean-burning compressed natural gas (CNG) wherever feasible throughout our fleet. These efforts have resulted in replacing 220 diesel or gasoline-powered vehicles with those fueled by CNG. 

Recently, Southwest took delivery of its first lightweight aluminum-bodied CNG service vehicles. This serves as a pilot program to explore the feasibility of further replacing other service-bodied vehicles throughout the fleet, which have similar space and weight limitations. 

Southwest continues to undertake energy-efficient renovations through
• Replacing aging fluorescent light bulbs with energy-saving LEDs 
• Computerizing HVAC and exterior lighting systems 
• Implementing ENERGY STAR®-recognized bill management software


 
20% by 2025

 

 

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)

 

While efforts within our Company continue to reduce emissions, it is just as important for our team to work with customers to help them achieve their own reduction goals. Recent studies indicate that vehicle emissions rank as the primary contributor to higher emissions in the atmosphere.

Because CNG is a clean and affordable alternative to diesel, we continue to encourage customers to convert their fleets to CNG. Southwest recently revised its natural gas vehicle website to help current and future customers realize these and other benefits, including the stable pricing of CNG and the potential for reduced vehicle maintenance costs.

CNG
  

Renewable Natural Gas (RNG)

 

Among the many new initiatives the Company is pursuing is our effort to add renewable natural gas (RNG) to our supply portfolio. Like renewable energy derived from solar and wind, RNG is created by taking emissions from waste materials and converting it into clean energy. When trash, animal waste or sewage decompose, a gas called methane is naturally created as a byproduct. This gas is lighter than air and rises into the atmosphere. It is also the main component of the natural gas used in homes and businesses.  

In some instances, the waste can be collected into a container known as a biodigester. Here, methane is captured, preventing its release into the atmosphere. The gas is then cleaned and conditioned to pipeline quality standards and is delivered for direct use by customers to heat their homes, enjoy a warm shower or cook a nice homemade meal. 

RNG can be used in everything that already uses natural gas. Because this renewable energy is sourced from a variety of organic byproducts, it is generally considered carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative. Its use creates no additional carbon dioxide emissions, which would otherwise be flared at the source or, even worse, vented into the atmosphere. Our Company has been working with several customers in our service territory that either create or want to use renewable natural gas supplies. 

For the past several years, Southwest has been working closely with the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada to incorporate RNG into their fleet. In 2020, an application was submitted to the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada for approval to proceed. Partners like these appreciate the significant environmental benefits that RNG provides.

Several studies completed by peer utilities indicate that inclusion of RNG in gas supply portfolios can achieve aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals at a fraction of the cost of converting end-use appliances to renewable electricity. Moreover, the AGA completed a study last year that concluded moving away from natural gas appliances toward electricity could cost upwards of $1.2 trillion nationally, raising average household utility costs by up to $910 per year. Our pursuit of exciting new RNG supplies will help ensure natural gas service continues to play a key role in achieving aggressive carbon emission reduction goals for decades to come. 


 
RNG How its Made Pic
   

Energy-Efficiency Programs

Efforts to help conserve and save also extend to many of Southwest’s direct use customers. The Company continually engages state regulators in a process to seek approval for rate and recovery measures in line with governing guidelines. Commercial and residential customers participating in Southwest’s commission-approved energy-efficiency rebate programs saw reduced costs in 2019, with an average savings of $27 per year, and average lifetime savings totaling over $750 per customer. Residential customers benefit from rebates on water and space-heating equipment, weatherization improvements and solar thermal water heating systems. Similar programs were in place for commercial customers, such as for gas-powered food service equipment.

Not only are we actively curtailing our own GHG emissions, but we are also helping customers reach their emissions-reduction goals while saving them money. As technology in the natural gas space continues to evolve, we anticipate our customers benefitting from even greater financial and environmental savings in the future.

 

Operational Efficiency


As part of our management philosophy, the Company consistently evaluates ways to improve operational efficiencies. As Southwest transitions toward the use of more digital environments, it has also sought a way to reduce paper and transportation costs. In 2019, after a thorough analysis, Southwest determined that such an opportunity existed by adjusting our internal mail systems. By moving daily interoffice mail delivery to a weekly schedule, Southwest will save approximately $228,000 annually. Implementing this new delivery schedule led to more efficient routes driven by our fleet, improved accuracy and fewer miles driven overall. The savings also translated into a greenhouse gas reduction equivalent of planting 1,500 trees a year.

The introduction of greater technology and changes in our overall processes allow us to serve our customers better today than ever before. With the rollout of our call-ahead program — which notifies customers when a technician is on their way to perform service — we have reduced the number of multiple service requests or callbacks. These reductions allow us to serve more customers in a shorter time frame and reduce emissions produced from multiple visits to the same location.

Southwest saw additional improved operational efficiency through the introduction of an electronic signature management system, which allows for digital signatures on agreements with customers, vendors and for internal purposes. By the end of 2019, our system reported a 300% increase in efficiency from the beginning of the year by reducing the amount of time that it takes to complete an agreement from nearly 3,000 minutes to just over 800. This system also added security to ensure the validity of signers and encryption of the documents. We continue to evaluate what other benefits have been realized through this improvement, including reduced costs and GHG savings due to diminished demand for physical delivery.

Operational Efficiency

Gas Integrity and Mitigation Efforts


Part of an overall approach to emissions reductions includes ongoing mitigation efforts. In fact, Southwest has been a partner of the EPA’s Natural Gas STAR Program since 1997. In 2016, Southwest became an inaugural member of the EPA’s new Methane Challenge Program. Both programs are designed to promote the implementation of cost-effective technologies and practices to reduce methane emissions from natural gas distribution and transmission systems.

Southwest follows operational procedures that specify all aspects of scheduled maintenance and operation of its natural gas system. This includes leak-detection surveys as well as the company’s distribution and transmission integrity management programs. These procedures meet or exceed the minimum requirements established by the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration requirements for operators of gas distribution and transmission pipelines.
 

Over the last 30 years, Southwest grew its system by approximately 30,000 miles of pipe — more than doubling the infrastructure system — while also reducing the leak rate by more than 500%.

Leak Rate

At Southwest, we make concerted efforts to minimize emissions resulting from intentional releases of natural gas through reductions in purging and other processes in compliance with regulatory requirements. In California, our natural gas operations segment participates in a specific leakage abatement program and reports annual emissions to the California Public Utilities Commission.

Replacing Early Vintage Plastic Pipe

Efforts continue on our initial strategic replacement of approximately 3,500 miles of early vintage plastic pipe consisting of ABS, Aldyl-A, Aldyl-HD and PVC. At the end of 2019, Southwest had completed 2,755 miles of pipe with approximately 745 miles (21%) remaining. These replacement projects help reduce leaks in aging infrastructure and increase safety. Promptly detecting and repairing leaks in our pipeline system is part of our Company’s ongoing sustainability efforts and we have invested over $2 million in leak detection technology and other research and development.
Miles of Pipe

Damage Prevention


Accidental releases of natural gas into the atmosphere can be harmful to the environment. That is why our mitigation efforts extend beyond the responsibility of the Company to include anyone who may damage natural gas infrastructure. For this reason, the Company actively participates in state One Call (811) programs, Common Ground Alliance (CGA), Gold Shovel Standard and other local and regional excavation damage prevention agencies with the common goal of minimizing damage to buried utility lines.

We strongly promote the principles endorsed by the CGA by developing and offering damage prevention training targeted to appropriate audiences.

In order to assist in damage prevention educational efforts, the Company produces a number of materials for distribution. From bill inserts to public service announcements, videos and more, Southwest works hard to ensure both excavators and homeowners alike understand the importance of safe digging.
811 Award

Call Before You Dig