When Enbridge Gas’s proposed Bobcaygeon gas expansion project was placed into abeyance by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) last October, Enbridge asked local residents to send letters expressing disappointment. It even provided a sample that could be copied. People on both sides of the issue sent letters. Kawartha Lakes, the city, was quick to oppose the delay. Its letter referred to city council’s first expression of support for gas service back in 2017.

Seniors for Climate Action Now – Kawarthas (SCAN) believes the city’s position is misguided and is calling on the municipality to instead ask the OEB to make the best decision in light of the necessary energy transition.

The OEB is Ontario’s independent energy regulator. It put the project on hold, pending review of a motion submitted by Environmental Defence. The OEB is just one of several government and regulatory bodies that has made recent hopeful progress by paying heed to the fact that we are in a critical decade when it comes to addressing the climate crisis. But action needs to happen at all levels of government.

There was also the recent climate deal from COP 28, the annual United Nations climate summit. Canada, along with 200 other countries agreed to language calling for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade.” This was a first. Canada also signed on to a declaration calling for tripling of renewable energy around the globe and doubling energy efficiency by 2030. It signed another agreement calling on governments to protect communities from climate-related health impacts, such as extreme heat and air pollution.

Last December, the OEB made an important decision on Enbridge’s proposed provincial gas pipeline expansion plans. The OEB rejected the “business-as-usual” scenario proposed by Enbridge. It found that “…energy transition poses a risk that assets used to serve existing and new Enbridge Gas customers will become stranded because of the energy transition. Enbridge Gas has not provided an adequate assessment of this risk to demonstrate that its capital spending plan is prudent.”

The OEB’s ruling therefore eliminated the special deal that Enbridge and housing developers receive for connections to the gas system, effective January 2025. Gas customers currently pay an extra fee on their gas bill to cover the cost of connections. The amount is considerable, averaging $4,500 per house, paid over 40 years. These extra fees amount to about $250 million per year. Because they haven’t had to pay for the connections, developers have automatically included gas service in their developments. The OEB’s reasoning is that, “when a developer is faced with the full cost of including gas service in a development, that developer will be fully incented to choose the most cost effective, energy efficient choice.” The decision is good for existing gas customers, new home buyers, and the environment.

The connecting thread in both OEB decisions is the recognition of the energy transition and the need to make informed decisions. In its December decision, the OEB noted that “two important themes emerged during this proceeding: climate change policy is driving an energy transition that gives rise to a stranded asset risk, and the usual way of doing business is not sustainable.”

In the Bobcaygeon case, it appears that Environmental Defence wants to ensure that Enbridge’s expansion project is not simply a business-as-usual approach and that residents have access to accurate information about costs, efficiency and environmental impact of both gas and electric heat pumps. This is a legitimate concern, in light of the recent decision of  Canada’s Competition Bureau to investigate misleading claims that Enbridge made to residents of communities where it is expanding gas service.

It is discouraging that Kawartha Lakes was so quick to support Enbridge. The world has changed considerably since 2017. Since then, electric heat pumps have proved to be more efficient, less expensive and better for the environment. As well, there is a growing body of research on the adverse health impacts of gas stoves, particularly in children.

Why didn’t the city take the time to look into the matter before communicating with the OEB?  It is throwing away an opportunity to breathe life into the vision statement of its 2019 Healthy Environment Plan (HEP): “(W)e will be leaders in addressing our changing climate to ensure a healthy environment and a prosperous community.” The HEP also commits the city to “encourage developers to construct new builds that are energy efficient and climate resilient…with features such as: Building design that reduces energy demand and increases efficiency (e.g. passive cooling, air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps…”)

We hope that the city will adopt its leadership role and encourage the OEB to conduct a full airing of these issues. The transition to clean, renewable energy sources is imperative.

This article was first published in The Lindsay Advocate on January 26, 2024. Reprinted with permission.

 

Moya Beall is a member of Seniors For Climate Action Now! (SCAN!) – Kawarthas

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