Natural gas expansion on way
Thousands of rural and northern Ontario residents could soon have a more affordable form of energy heating their homes due to the Access to Natural Gas Act passed Thursday.
On Friday, provincial ministers Monte McNaughton and Ernie Hardeman were at Ferguson’s Scattered Acres in Warwick, a community in Lambton County between Sarnia and London, to announce the legislatio, meant to encourage private expansion of natural gas infrastructure through rural and northern Ontario. .
“This means so much for everyone in Warwick,” Jackie Rombouts, recently elected mayor of the community, said at the event. “I’ve been on council for four years, and we’ve been constantly petitioning the province. We need natural gas in our rural areas. It’s going to make things more affordable.”
The intent is for private distributors such as Union Gas to partner with the government to expand natural gas to 80 communities and roughly 35,000 new houses across Ontario. People who use natural gas will pay an additional $1 per month to fund the program, less than the roughly $80 per year going towards the now-cancelled Ontario cap-and-trade program.
“There will be savings of about $60 per year,” McNaughton said. “We’re going to move forward on this as quickly as possible.”
McNaughton, the province’s infrastructure minister, tried to pass legislation in 2018 suggesting the cost of cap-and-trade be easily reported on Ontario hydro bills. On Friday, he promised the new process, including developing guidelines with the Ontario Energy Board and the Ministry of Energy, will be “open and transparent.”
“We’re pleased that the legislation for the natural gas expansion support program has passed,” said Andrea Stass, speaking on behalf of Union Gas in Chatham. “I think (it’s) a really good opportunity for residents, homeowners and businesses to save money and have access to a reliable source of energy.”
On the other hand, the expansion of natural gas has been panned by environmental groups in Ontario. While the stuff might be cheaper than some forms of energy, these groups content greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario could increase as a result of expansion.
The new legislation – introduced in September – also comes in the wake of the Ontario government’s cancellation of the controversial Green Energy Act, as well as more than 200 green energy contracts across southwestern Ontario.
“To meet our climate targets, we need to be on a road to phase out natural gas consumption,” Jack Gibbons, chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, said. “We should be really focused on energy conservation, home energy retrofit … and switching to renewable fuel.”
There are lower-cost options than expanding natural gas, including the use of geothermal heat or heat pumps in rural areas, added Keith Brook, programs director for the Ontario-based Environmental Defence.
“We don’t think that the expansion of natural gas is a good idea,” Brooks said. “Our goal, our objective of fighting climate change, is weaning ourselves off natural gas.”
Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman, left, speaks with Infrastructure Minister Monte McNaughton in Warwick Friday morning. The Ontario government announced a new natural gas program that could see the province partner with distributors like Union Gas to expand natural gas infrastructure in rural and northern Ontario.