Pro­gram aims to get nat­u­ral gas ser­vice to ru­ral ar­eas

The Observer (Sarnia) - - FRONT PAGE - LOUIS PIN

Thou­sands of ru­ral and north­ern On­tario res­i­dents could soon have a more af­ford­able form of en­ergy heat­ing their homes.

The Nat­u­ral Gas Act passed by the leg­is­la­ture Thurs­day is aimed at en­cour­ag­ing pri­vate ex­pan­sion of nat­u­ral gas in­fra­struc­ture through ru­ral and north­ern On­tario.

On Fri­day, pro­vin­cial min­is­ters Monte McNaughton and Ernie Harde­man were at Fer­gu­son’s Scat­tered Acres in War­wick, to an­nounce the leg­is­la­tion.

“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 to­ward 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 it 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 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.”

LOUIS PIN/SAR­NIA OB­SERVER

Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Ernie Harde­man and In­fra­struc­ture Min­is­ter Monte McNaughton an­nounce a nat­u­ral gas pro­gram in War­wick Fri­day.

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