Ontario climate change legislation calls for phase out of residential natural gas use


 By Barb McKay

 Ontario’s Climate Change legislation is raising questions about the future of proposed natural gas projects in the province, including one in southern Bruce County.

The Climate Change Action Plan was reportedly leaked to the Globe and Mail newspaper last week and outlines a strategy for reducing green house gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, and targets natural gas use in homes and businesses.

On Thursday, The Independent received a media release from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change announcing that the province had passed the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-Carbon Economy Act, which will support Ontario’s cap and trade program. The program sets out strict timelines for reducing carbon emissions by relying more heavily on green and low-carbon energy sources, such as nuclear, wind, solar and biomass, and moving away from fossil fuels. Under the Act, money raised from the cap and trade program will be deposited into a new Greenhouse Gas Reduction Account, all of which will be invested in green projects and initiatives that reduce emissions.

The strategy is in contradiction to a plan announced by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Infrastructure just one year ago to expand natural gas access to rural and northern communities. To support that plan, the province also announced a $200 million Natural Gas Access Loan and $30 million Natural Gas Economic Development Grant. The ministry pledged to seek input from communities to develop natural gas programs and encouraged municipalities to work with utilities on natural gas expansion projects.

In a media release announcing the access loan and economic development grant April 2015, the ministry said the funding “will attract new industry, make commercial transportation and agriculture more affordable, help to create jobs, provide more energy choices and will lower electricity prices for businesses and consumers across Ontario.”

It also pointed to the fact that natural gas heating is significantly less expensive than electric or oil heating.

Last week’s climate change strategy report, however, indicates that the province will be pushing homeowners and business owners to move away from natural gas as a heating source.

“By 2030, we envision that Ontario's cap and trade program will have helped to adjust the economic signals that favour fossil-fuel based energy,” the Environment Ministry states in the report. “We will have a reliable, cost-effective, low-emissions electricity system that can accommodate new demand as the economy shifts from fossil-fuel energy to low-carbon electricity.”

One of the action plans to achieve that goal will be to look at eliminating existing initiatives that support fossil fuel use. Instead, greater investments will be made in green energy initiatives.

The objectives in the strategy come as a surprise to local mayors who were in Toronto last week for an Ontario Energy Board hearing to review current regulations for new natural gas projects. The municipalities of Kincardine and Arran-Elderslie and Huron-Kinloss Township have been working jointly with Edmonton-based utility EPCOR to bring natural gas to the region. Union Gas has a similar proposal to extend natural gas to the communities.

“We have been promoting the need for natural gas since 2011, so we are hopeful,” said Kincardine mayor Anne Eadie. “The Premier’s mandate letters were very clear directing the Ministries of Natural Resources and Economic Development to get natural gas to rural areas.”

Eadie said, at this point, until the Climate Change Action Plan is made public she is taking current reports, including the one in the Globe and Mail, as hearsay.

Huron-Kinloss mayor Mitch Twolan has a similar viewpoint and said the timing of the news reports coinciding with the OEB hearings is strange.

“If it is true, it is very disappointing,” he said. “Right now, we just have to continue on with the process. It could be speculation. We’ll just have to wait until the report comes out. I’m still holding out hope that this is not all factual.”

The municipalities have invested the past five years to get natural gas service and have stressed its importance for local economic growth to a number of government officials. Last year, the municipalities jointly commissioned a report which outlines the estimated economic and environmental benefits of extending natural gas service to this region. The report concluded that the annual energy cost saving for residential, municipal, commercial, industrial and agricultural users could total as much as $27 million per year.

Geothermal vs Gas

Canada’s climate lends itself to the Geothermal solution. Low cost heating and air conditioning that’s almost free. In a recent article one of the gas companies was saying it would cost $500 per year for the next 10 years for a consumer hook-up. That would go a long way to paying for a Geothermal system. Once installed the Geothermal loop continues to provide cheap heating and almost free air conditioning for 60 years.