July 31, 2020 / 11:15 PM / 13 days ago

UPDATE 1-Gas utility pushes back in court on California energy policy document

(Adds CEC comment)

July 31 (Reuters) - The largest U.S. natural gas utility on Friday pushed back against California's efforts to phase out gas, asking a state court to force the revision of a document dealing with the transition to cleaner methods to generate power and heat buildings.

In a court filing, Southern California Gas Co said a state law passed in 2013 required the California Energy Commission to analyze every four years how to maximize the benefits of natural gas. A report written by the agency earlier this year does the opposite and should be vacated, the court documents allege.

The complaint, filed in state court in Orange County, is the natural gas industry's latest attempt to challenge efforts in states with strict environmental rules to address the fossil fuel's contribution to climate change. In the last year, 30 California cities have passed measures to reduce the use of natural gas for heating and cooking.

"Phasing out natural gas is fundamentally inconsistent with the CEC's statutory mandate," SoCalGas said in the court filing. The unit of Sempra Energy was joined in the action by natural gas transportation fuels company Clean Energy Fuels Corp and members of the Utility Workers Union of America.

In a biennial analysis of the state's energy system published earlier this year, the CEC said it expects natural gas consumption to keep declining in the state as more renewable energy is added to the grid and buildings and transportation are electrified.

California has among the most aggressive climate policies in the nation, including a requirement that utilities generate 100% of their electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045.

"Difficult decisions about replacing aging gas infrastructure and managing investments to maintain energy reliability are needed," the report said.

CEC spokeswoman Sandy Louey said the agency does not comment on ongoing litigation. (Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by David Gregorio)

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