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This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features returning guest Stuart Saulters for a discussion about gas appliances and gas appliance standards with host Russel Treat.

In this episode, you will learn more about Stuart’s move to the American Public Gas Association and what his position entails, the entities APGA serves, and the importance of gas appliance standards from the perspective of a pipeline professional.

Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms

  • Stuart Saulters is the Director of Government Affairs for the American Public Gas Association (APGA). Connect with Stuart on LinkedIn.
    • American Public Gas Association (APGA) is the only association for municipal gas utilities in the United States.
    • American Petroleum Institute (API) is the only national trade association representing all facets of the oil and natural gas industry, which supports 10.3 million U.S. jobs and nearly 8 percent of the U.S. economy. 
  • Tennessee Gas Pipeline is now owned by Kinder Morgan and extends from South Texas and Offshore Louisiana to New York state.
  • CPS Energy is a municipal electric utility serving the city of San Antonio, Texas.
  • Call Before You Dig Campaign (811 Campaign) helps to ensure safe digging. A person is required to call the 811 number 48-to-72 hours before beginning any excavation or digging projects.
  • PHSMA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) ensures the safe transportation of energy and hazardous materials.
  • DOE (United States Department of Energy) is a cabinet-level department of the United States Government concerned with the United States’ policies regarding energy and safety in handling nuclear material.
  • AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) is a thermal efficiency measure of space-heating furnaces and boilers.
  • CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) is an independent agency of the United States government. The CPSC seeks to promote the safety of consumer products by addressing “unreasonable risks” of injury, developing uniform safety standards, and conducting research into product-related illness and injury.
  • CSA Group, previously known as the Canadian Standards Association, is a standards organization that develops standards in 57 areas. CSA Group publishes standards in print and electronic form and provides training and advisory services. CSA Group is composed of representatives from industry, government, and consumer groups.
  • Underwriters Laboratory (UL) is a global safety certification company headquartered in Northbrook, Illinois.
  • International Code Council (ICC) was established in 1994 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing a single set of comprehensive and coordinated national building codes.

Full Episode Transcript

Russel Treat:  Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 98, sponsored by EnerSys Corporation, providers of POEMS, the Pipeline Operations Excellence Management System, SCADA compliance, and operations software for the pipeline control center. Find out more about POEMS at enersyscorp.com.

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Announcer:  The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now, your host, Russel Treat.

Russel:  Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time, and to show that appreciation, we’re giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week our winner is Rebeka Taylor with Burns & McDonnell.

Congratulations, Rebeka, your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around until the end of the episode. This week, Stuart Saulters is returning. We’re going to talk about gas appliances and gas appliance standards.

You might wonder why a pipeliner should be concerned about such things, and that’s what we’re going to talk about. Stuart, welcome back to the Pipeliners Podcast.

Stuart Saulters:  Thanks, Russel. Thanks for having me back.

Russel:  You were last on for episode 48, when we talked about pipeline SMS. As we were talking off mic, I understand there’s a lot that’s changed in your world. Maybe you can update the listeners about what’s been going on in your life.

Stuart:  Yeah, no, so both professionally and personally, it’s been a lot of changes for the Saulters Family here in 2019. Previously, when I spoke with you, I was with the American Petroleum Institute, or API. Now, I’m with the American Public Gas Association, APGA.

I started there back in April of this year. As well, my wife and I welcomed our first child, a baby girl, into the world here, the end of last year. A lot of changes around the house and a lot of new things to learn.

Russel:  Awesome. Congratulations. That sounds like you’re setting a high bar for change in a single year. New job, new family. That’s a pretty high bar.

Stuart:  Yes, it is. Like they say, “Go big or go home.” I feel like we’ve done that. We haven’t bought a house, but I think this is enough change for us for the time being.

Russel:  I’m guessing a house is in your near-term future.


Stuart:  A bigger house.

Russel:  That’s actually appropriate, because we’re going to talk about the APGA. Why don’t you tell folks what the APGA is and what you’re up to there?

Stuart:  Yes. Again, thanks for having me on. We appreciate the opportunity to share. The American Public Gas Association, APGA, we represent 1,000 natural gas distribution entities. Just stepping back a little bit, when you think about the natural gas supply chain, you have the producers, the folks that get it out of the ground.

The midstream companies, the folks that transport it from the producers to an end user, whether it’s a power generation facility or an individual house, business, or industry. When you look at that last downstream area of the supply chain, that’s what we have, the local distribution companies or LDCs.

Those actually break down into investor-owned utilities, or public gas utilities, or municipal gas utilities. APGA members are the public gas utilities. We like to say that they’re owned by and accountable to the citizens they serve, because they are actually, as members of the company, city employees.

We have the Borough of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania utility is one of our members, as the city, or that borough, actually is the responsible party for providing natural gas to the citizens in that town. No board of directors. You have the utility board, or you have the mayor, that is the “CEO” for our members.

Russel:  It’s interesting. The whole model of the city utilities being a public function is a pretty old model in our republic. It actually dates back to the early days of when the city handled lighting the streetlights. The early gas utilities were, as they were converting those streetlights from whale oil to natural gas.

Stuart:  It’s interesting. A lot of our members are in the Southeast part of the U.S. I don’t know all the legal things that went on, but essentially, as the big pipelines were being built to provide natural gas for manufacturing in the Northeast, during World War II, so you think about the old pipelines, whether it’s…

I can’t think of their names now, because they’re owned by different people.

Russel:  Tennessee Gas Pipeline, and those pipelines that date back to the ’40s.

Stuart:  Correct. The members, the cities were seeing these pipelines being built in their backyard, to use that term. They were like, “Hey, what gives? Can we get some of that natural gas for our city for…?” like you said, streetlamps or for individual residences or businesses.

Like I said, there’s, obviously, a lot went from a government and negotiation standpoint, but that’s essentially where a lot of our members get their natural gases, from those big pipelines, when they were being built back in the ’40s for World War II and stuff.

Russel:  What’s the size of the typical APGA member, in terms of number of customers?

Stuart:  In terms of number of customers, it varies. Some of our bigger members, like San Antonio is one of our bigger members, so CPS Energy. I don’t know right off hand how many customers they have, but I would imagine it’s…How many folks live in San Antonio, in the city proper? Between 150,000, 200,000.

I think the more interesting statistic is that the average employee number for our members is 20.

Russel:  [laughs] You think about the big natural gas utility companies, the investor-owned guys, their average number of employees is probably in the tens of thousands.

Stuart:  Correct.

Russel:  I think that’s a really interesting distinction right there.

Stuart:  You can take whichever one you want to, but they’re multiple states, multiple areas. Then our guys, with their 20 employees, are basically right across the hallway from the mayor, from the fire department, in a different building, maybe, than the fire department, but right there.

It’s a different feel, a different structure than you would get with a bigger investor-owned utility.

Russel:  I think that’s right. Certainly, I think the large investor-owned utilities would make the case that they try to be connected to their communities the same, but it’s a little different when you’re hanging out in a small community, you’re working with the mayor, and you’re providing service to the folks that are your neighbors.

Stuart:  Absolutely.

Russel:  The public utilities do some things that, I don’t know, you might consider a little old school. Stuff like I go to the gas company to look at what appliances I’m going to get that are gas appliances from a house, versus going to Home Depot, Lowe’s, or something like that.

Stuart:  That is a very interesting part that, frankly, I didn’t realize still went on. Obviously, growing up in Mississippi, my grandmother was from a smaller town. I remember the gas company having fireplaces and things like that.

Some of our members, which are typically in smaller towns, still have that service that they provide their customers and the citizens in the towns where they work. I think it’s a really cool deal that they still do that.

Obviously, I’m not downplaying Lowe’s and Home Depot, but there’s definitely a customer service aspect that our members provide that maybe some of those big box stores don’t necessarily provide.

At that point, they’re able to really talk about the fuel. If you’re the one providing the fuel to the residents, you obviously know a lot more about it than someone that maybe works in a hardware department one day and then works in the appliance section the next day.

I think it’s a cool service that I was glad to see that they still provide. Obviously, the citizens in their towns are appreciative of it.

Russel:  Absolutely. I think the other thing that’s also true is, when you’re buying an appliance from a small public utility, they have a much greater interest in safety than the interest that a big box store would have in safety.

Stuart:  Absolutely. I know a lot of your listeners are probably familiar with the “Call Before You Dig” campaign. There’s also a very, very robust campaign to make sure that folks are familiar with what to do if they smell gas.

If you’re engaging with the gas company as you consider buying appliances, then there’s obviously that level of interaction that you get in terms of, “Hey, if you smell something, this is what you may smell, the rotten egg smell,” that type of thing, what you need to do to call.

Russel:  I brought you on to talk about appliance standards, so this is a good tee up for that conversation. Maybe I’ll just start, and I’ll ask the question. I’m a pipeliner. What’s an appliance standard, and why should I care?

Stuart:  You would think that a trade association may be focused on manufacturers, like somebody that supports Rheem or somebody that supports Bradford White, AO Smith, or whoever would be a little more concerned.

I think our involvement is because we want to make sure that appliance standards, the things governing appliance efficiency, are fuel neutral, and so that they provide for opportunities for natural gas to be a fuel source for those appliances.

We engage a lot. The appliance standard process — appliance rulemaking process, excuse me — is run through the Department of Energy. If you go through the Department of Energy, there’s an Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, EERE.

Then underneath that, there’s the Building Technology Office. That BTO is where the appliance rulemaking fits in our government. I guess, just real quick, you mentioned safety earlier, Russel. I want to point out, the appliance rulemakings really are all about efficiency.

Energy usage, energy consumption, which translates into essentially dollars saved for you as the customer, you as the consumer. If you want to talk about safety, there’s obviously a level of PHMSA oversight that comes.

Not necessarily with the appliances, but with the pipelines. Then there’s also, in terms of the appliances, you have the Consumer Protection Safety Council. They are really the federal government entity that governs or provides oversight over safety of products.

To a certain level, we will engage with them. Really, the appliance rulemaking that I’m going to talk about today is more about efficiency, and so energy conservation.

DOE, through the EERE, through the BTO, has 60 categories of appliances and standards that they cover, and that the products covered by the Appliance Standards Program represent 90 percent of home energy use, 60 percent of commercial building use, and 30 percent of industrial energy use.

Quite the breadth of coverage, when it comes to energy use, in our country. A lot of responsibility to be sure that, as citizens, we have appliances that are providing energy efficiency for us, and like I said, save us money, as well as better for the environment as a whole.

Russel:  You mentioned, you were going through the alphabet soup there a little bit, and talking about the various people that are involved in standards. Maybe we ought to unpack that a little bit. There’s some federal standards that are, to some degree, mostly about…

I’m just trying to make sure I understood what you said. To some degree, they’re mostly about appliances being as efficient as they can be. The focus is more on efficiency than anything else.

When you go to the appliance store, and you see the ratings on the side, that’s the government agencies that are controlling what you can put on your placard as to how efficient this piece of equipment is.

Stuart:  That’s correct. Through the appliance rulemaking or appliance standards process, the government is basically saying, “Hey, here’s the minimum.” There’s different ways. I want to talk about furnaces here in a second, so we’ll just say that for an example.

The efficiency metric for a furnace is AFUE, or annual fuel utilization efficiency. The government basically says manufacturers have to have appliances that meet “x” AFUE rating. That’s their level of oversight, with regards to energy usage.

I think it’s important to note that there’s voluntary programs that are out there. Many folks are probably familiar with Energy Star appliances. If you go to your store, you see a refrigerator that’s got an Energy Star.

That’s another energy efficiency program that’s run through DOE and, actually, EPA, the Environment Protection Association, is also involved in that. Basically, that label with Energy Star identifies the top performing, the most cost-effective products that you would use in your home — or if you own a business, in your business.

Those are the kind of things that are run through the appliance rulemaking process, the Appliance Rulemaking Office. I will say, it’s been interesting, since I moved over to APGA. This job allows me to have really good dinner conversation.

When I worked for API, and then prior to that, I worked for Chevron, I was doing a lot of technical stuff, whether it was a refinery or upstream. This is neat. I can talk to folks about their water heater, [laughs] talk to folks about their…

Russel:  It’s a lot more relatable, right? Everybody has a water heater. Everybody’s got a stove. Everybody’s got a heater in the house. It becomes a lot more relatable.

Stuart:  Yep. Now, they may get mad at me, because if I walk in their house and see an electric resistance range, I’m like, “What the heck is this?” Other than that…

Russel:  [laughs]

Stuart:  Other than that, it makes it a little more fun, because like you said, it is relatable with folks.

Russel:  What are the standards that the APGA is currently looking at or working with that are being created or update?

Stuart:  I think that, before we hop into talking about some of the appliance standards that we’re working with with DOE, I want to make sure that folks know that there is a side of…Like I said, the CPSC has some safety governance over appliances.

There’s also a Standard Development Organization, SDO, oversight as well. As I mentioned, I used to work for the American Petroleum Institute, API, which provides standards. There’s also appliance standards run through the Canadian Standards Association, CSA, as well as Underwriters Laboratory, UL.

They provide some level of oversight. The federal government will look to these groups, similar as to PHMSA looks to API, as the oversight over different appliances and stuff. Not everything is run through DOE.

From an energy efficiency standpoint, there’s also different groups. The International Code Council, ICC, has a residential code as well as a building code. Then there’s also, from an environmental standpoint, ICC has a code that they call the International Energy Conservation Code, or IECC, as well as the International Green Code. That’s the IGCC.

Those two codes actually are ongoing right now. APGA is involved in that. To the level we’re involved is, again, just making sure that folks have the choice to have natural gas in their home or business, in terms of fuel for their appliances, fuel for their space and water heating, that type of thing.

A little bit different than maybe appliance specific rulemakings, but again, important for APGA members to be engaged in, just to make sure that folks are understanding, and frankly, understanding that a natural gas is a fuel that’s clean.

It’s good for the environment, as well as it saves customers money in terms of fuel costs for their utility bills and things like that.

Russel:  Coming back to the question I was asking earlier, what are the standards that are currently being created or updated, or what’s going on in that world?

Stuart:  Good question. I apologize for skipping out on that one. Obviously, our focus is on the appliances that use gas. Water heaters, furnaces and boilers, and then this something I knew, but some people actually have natural gas clothes dryers.

Russel:  Yep.

Stuart:  Those are the ones that we really keep an eye on. I mentioned furnaces earlier. That is one that is a focus for us right now. It gets in the weeds here, but I think your listeners, which is a pretty technical audience, will appreciate this.

When you think about furnaces, there’s two types. When I talk about furnaces, I’m meaning the furnaces that use natural gas. Some of them do use propane, but definitely, gas powered furnaces for space heating.

You have condensing furnaces and non-condensing furnaces. Condensing furnaces, essentially, they basically are built in such a way that they don’t waste. They waste as little amount of energy as possible.

They will capture the exhaust gas. They’ll capture some of the moisture that’s created from the heat generation, and they reuse it. They convert it to usable energy. The exhaust that does go out is very minimal.

The other alternative is non-condensing. Basically, it doesn’t have that recycle aspect to it. It has a little bit more exhaust gas than a condensing furnace would have. A couple years ago, some stakeholders came to DOE and said that, basically, non-condensing furnaces aren’t efficient enough for the environment.

They challenged DOE to take a look at non-condensing furnaces and really see, do they meet that energy efficiency threshold that should be put in place to benefit the environment? We challenged the assumption that those stakeholders were making, that non-condensing furnaces weren’t efficient, by saying that it depends on really where you are.

If you’re in a Florida location, a generally temperate, mild location — mild, in terms of temperature, location — do you really need a condensing furnace? You’re really only running your furnace or your heater a month out of the year, two months out of the year.

Their argument that they weren’t energy efficient enough, that they wasted too much energy, which is bad for the environment, it didn’t really hold up in a more mild climate, like you see in the southern part of the U.S.

Now, if you’re in Minnesota or somewhere like that, yes, absolutely, you’re going to run your heater a lot more. You’re going to have a lot more energy put into that appliance, so you do need that condensing technology.

I guess the bigger argument was really just taking away the choice of the consumer for them to say, “I’d rather have condensing or non-condensing.” In reality, the furnaces on the market today, even if they are non-condensing are still a lot more efficient than you’d get way back when.

Then as well, I think some of those stakeholders wanted to really push electric heat equipment, so heat pump technology is the complementary space heating equipment for, as compared to furnaces. A lot of the opponents were saying, “Well, you don’t even need natural gas powered space heating equipment. Just use electric.”

Again, we challenged that. I challenge that from a personal perspective. I have an electric heat pump in my house, and it’s not very efficient. I think it’s just trying to help folks really understand the choice that consumers need to have in terms of the appliance they want and in terms of the fuel they want to provide it.

I’ll say this, too, just with regards to that issue with the furnace, is if you go from condensing to non-condensing, and then, if you go from natural gas to electric, there’s some retrofit cost included in that.

If you, as the government, are mandating that you have to have one appliance or the other because of some environmental benefit that we believe is perceived, you’re making low income or fixed income folks invest in these new heating equipment, and they may not have the budget to do that.

It’s just trying to help the federal government understand, “Okay, here’s an opportunity. Here’s a situation where choice is good. Don’t limit the appliance standard to where you have to either do one appliance or another for energy efficiency sake.”

Russel:  Right. I think one of the things that a lot of people don’t understand about natural gas is that these appliances have to be designed for the gas that’s available locally, and they have to be designed for the environment in which they operate.

Anybody that’s been camping at high altitude knows it takes a lot more time to boil water at the top of a mountain than at the seashore. That kind of thing has to be factored in when you’re designing these appliances to do the things you use them for.

There’s a lot that goes into the details, I guess. Like a lot of other things, the devil’s in the details. You really have to work it out. When you try to make broad, sweeping claims about, “Well, this is good, and that’s bad,” it’s like, “Eh, well, it depends.” There’s value in the “it depends.”

Stuart:  Correct. I think that’s a great point. One thing I’ll say, just real quick, is from a building code standpoint is there’s not a federal building code, per se. States have to adopt their own for that exact reason.

You can’t force people in Florida to have thicker insulation, when it’s really not necessary. Definitely, when it comes to appliances and energy efficient…

Russel:  You don’t build a house the same way in Houston, Texas that you do in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The climate’s a tad different.

Stuart:  Absolutely. No, absolutely.

Russel:  I think I’d like to wrap this up and talk about what are some of the challenges with appliances? I think we can talk about the nature of the fuel, how it’s used, and then reliability of natural gas, versus electric as an alternative.

Stuart:  Thanks for that question. I guess just, I’ll say this, just to start off. A lot of APGA’s members are really focused on the direct use of natural gas, so that end user. Whether it’s in your home for space, water heating, cooking, like I said, clothes drying, or it could be to a business for more industrial, commercial type kitchen equipment, or to an industry.

Other folks within the local distribution company space, or even one step upstream of ours, in the transmission space, provide natural gas for power generation. That’s not really our membership. Obviously, we’re not going to push back on natural gas use for power generation.

We would argue that it’s a clean way to produce electricity for a lot of Americans. We would definitely support that. Really, we want to focus, in terms of our messaging, in discussion with folks, and education with folks that direct use aspect of natural gas.

To that point, we definitely believe that…Obviously, we want to talk about the environmental benefits of natural gas. We do believe it’s a clean fuel, and we have members that, all of our members believe it’s a clean fuel.

As the United States works with its global partners to look at greenhouse gas emission reductions and meet different objectives that have been set out there, we strongly believe that natural gas should be a part of that conversation.

Unfortunately, it’s often not included in that, but we would advocate that it definitely needs to be, because it can help, not only the United States, but other countries across the globe, with cleaner atmosphere, cleaner environment, less greenhouse gases.

Then, along with that, there’s the affordability aspect that natural gas provides. Obviously, here in the United States, we’ve seen a great thing with the development of the different shale regions. That’s allowed a lot of natural gas to be unlocked and allowed to be used in different ways.

Like I said, power generation is one way, but then we also use it in our direct use, directly supplied to the appliances. Like with that, what we like to say is really that natural gas is 92 percent more efficient than electricity in terms of direct use.

Russel:  The thing I would just add to this is that, if I’m running an electric appliance in the United States, chances are 80 percent that the electricity that I am using in that electric appliance is being generated with natural gas, which means I’m actually burning…

If I’m doing something where I’m dealing with direct heat — particularly, cooking, heating water, heating my home — then the amount of energy I lose to generate the electricity, put it on the transmission lines, move it to my house, means that I’m burning actually more fuel, creating more CO2, to cook the same amount, heat the same amount in my home.

I don’t think a lot of people get that. They just, “I go to the wall, I turn the switch on, and it’s clean.” Well, yeah, but you’ve still got to generate that electricity somehow.

Stuart:  Again, thanks for the opportunity to come on and be on the show here, Russel. I think, throughout the discussion, hopefully, folks have seen the value with regards to natural gas and that direct use of natural gas in their homes, in businesses, and industry.

From an energy efficiency standpoint, we see the opportunity for natural gas, and we believe natural gas can meet that energy efficiency objective. What does that mean? It means it’s better for the environment, and as well as saves consumers money because of utility bills.

Because of the shale development of natural gas, there is a lot of natural gas in the U.S. It does provide for a cheaper fuel, an abundant fuel, that folks can take advantage of.

Russel:  I think for the pipeline community, those of us that work in the business, that hopefully this conversation is useful to you guys.

When you’re sitting around the lunch room or the dinner table with family and friends and these conversations come up, hopefully this helps to equip you a little bit to talk a little bit more intelligently in a bit more detail about what’s the value of using natural gas and what’s really involved in the comparison of natural gas to electricity.

Hey, Stuart. Thanks for coming back on. We’ll bring you back. Congratulations on the new baby. Have fun.

Stuart:  [laughs] All right. Thank you so much, Russel. Appreciate the time.

Russel:  I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Stuart Saulters. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.

If you would like to support this podcast, please leave a review on Apple Podcast, Google Play, or your smart device that you use to listen to podcasts. You can find instructions at pipelinerspodcast.com.

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Russel:  If you have ideas, questions, or topics you would be interested in, please let us know on the contact us page of pipelinerspodcast.com, or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.

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