By September 21, 2017 Read More →

Vancouver “de facto” natural gas ban will cost households, businesses, community groups – study

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Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson

Energy costs likely to go up, even with new efficiency standards in buildings

A trio of Vancouver city policies amounts to a de facto ban on natural gas in pursuit of a “100% renewable energy” target, according to a study from Resource Works.

The study claims the ban is based on insufficient renewable natural gas and could blunt more effective work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The study evaluates the City of Vancouver’s prescriptive energy plan and raises concerns about higher energy costs for residents, civic institutions and businesses.

It finds that, taken together, the Renewable City Strategy, the Zero Emissions Building Plan and the Green Buildings Policy for Rezonings (including the Bylaw) do mean a de facto ban on natural gas in pursuit of the City’s 100 per cent renewable energy target by 2050.

“While the rest of the world is rushing to embrace natural gas and its positive climate attributes, the City of Vancouver is sowing confusion and moving us backward on climate,” said Stewart Muir, executive director of Resource Works.

“Planned constraints on energy sources, without new technology or sufficient alternatives, means not only that costs will go up, but that they will be disproportionately passed along to those who in some cases can least afford them.”

Without major technology advancements, there will not likely be sufficient renewable natural gas (biomethane) produced in British Columbia over the time horizon to replace conventional natural gas. This means it is likely impossible to meet the City of Vancouver’s estimated biomethane consumption levels by 2050, according to Resource Works.

The study also raises concerns that the focus on the renewable energy target could blunt the greenhouse gas reduction benefit by disregarding other non-emitting energy sources and stifling new technology deployment.

The City’s strategy raises a number of questions that have yet to be adequately answered. Higher costs for households, civic institutions like hospitals and community centres, and businesses of all sizes seem inevitable and could result in declining affordability and competitiveness.

“The City’s natural gas phase-out will be very challenging for the 1,100 members of the BCRFA who operate in Vancouver,” says Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association.

“Energy costs for the average restaurant are 2% of operating revenue, or $14,000, while profits are only 4%. So if energy costs go up, that puts a number of family-owned businesses at risk.”

Greenhouse gas emissions reductions resulting from the policy change have not been sufficiently analysed in the City’s documents to conclude that pursuing a 100 per cent renewable target will deliver the desired climate benefit.

This suggests the policy confuses means (100 per cent renewable target) with ends (GHG emissions reductions). This prescriptive approach risks precluding technological advances and/or efficiency measures that could have greater emissions reduction benefits.

The study suggests energy costs are likely to go up, even with new efficiency standards in buildings. In consequence, competitiveness and affordability are likely to be compromised.

If the City of Vancouver opts out of existing utility services, it would create a “doughnut hole” problem for the metro Vancouver region: embedded long-term infrastructure costs will be borne by a narrower ratepayer base.

Vancouver is a major service centre for British Columbia’s robust natural gas production and processing industry in the northeast of the province. Metro Vancouver is home to related industries such as the largest manufacturing hub of fireplaces and grills in the world.

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