Today on CKNW‘s Energy Series, Janet Brown and Jon Hall look into the City of Vancouver’s adoption of the ‘Zero Emissions Building Plan’ and one of its various steps to reduce emissions in new buildings by 2030: eliminating non-renewable natural gas.
Doug Smith is a director of sustainability for the City of Vancouver, and he says the idea isn’t exactly that simple.
“It is not the goal, necessarily, to eliminate all natural gas. The goal is more in line with reducing greenhouse gases significantly. There’s some misinformation out there about how we’re moving away from natural gas and how we’re reducing our greenhouse gases. The reality is we’re looking at conservation and efficiency, first and foremost. The vast majority of what we’re doing is reducing the amount of energy we’re going to need to run the city. Whether that’s vehicles or whether that’s homes or buildings: it’s a reduction in energy.”
Is the city of Vancouver basing this on a model in another Canadian city or somewhere else in the world?
“We’ve hired a company called ‘Navius’ to do our modeling for Vancouver, and it’s the same company both the federal government and provincial government use for their energy modeling. In fact, I believe some of the natural gas providers use them as well.”
Smith says this modeling has showed the city that there are many different paths to get towards an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases.
“The paths that we’ve done don’t necessarily mean that’ll be exactly the path that we take, but we know it’s possible and it’s technically feasible. What we’re doing is actually a little bit behind the times. If you go to Europe, pretty well the standard building code in Europe is ‘Passive House,’ which is a building that needs almost no energy to stay warm in the winter. That’s eventually where all of North America’s gonna go, and the sooner cities like Vancouver can get there the more cost-effective that change will be, and the more economic benefit we’ll derive there.”
Jason Wolfe is the director of energy solutions at Fortis BC, and says the plan has the potential to increase costs and stifle innovation in the long run.
“We do have concerns that the approach the city is taking with their zero-emissions plan is going to make it much more difficult to get natural gas into new buildings. If that occurs, there may not even be the option then to have renewable natural gas. The challenge is, right now, that what they put in place is making it more difficult to get gas into buildings.”
He says the most recent changes are coming May 1 2017; the city is making sure that all new buildings reduce emissions by 50 per cent.
“Not only does the equipment have to get more efficient, but we’ve done analysis and we can’t find a way in which gas heating can still be part of the equation to meet that 50 per cent reduction… So policies like that are making it very difficult to get gas into buildings. Our concern is then customers don’t have choice, and they don’t have the low-cost option for gas. Gas is about one third the price of electricity.”
Would a second look at the idea make a difference? Wolfe says interaction with the public is something he’s hoping for.
“Certainly with affordability being an issue in Vancouver, this has the implication of raising costs for energy, and that can impact affordability. We hope that the city will revisit this and try to ensure that the policy is lined up with the time frame at which we can bring things on like renewable natural gas.”
Jordan Bateman is B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and says the city should not be going green at any cost.
“We’re talking about bills of $1,200 or $1,500 more a year just to heat homes or condos in Vancouver. When you get rid of natural gas, which is a very clean energy source but also very cheap, and you move to electrical power, you end up paying more money. Back East there’s this phenomenon of ‘Energy Poverty’, especially Ontario, there’s a saying, ‘Heating or eating.’ That’s my fear for a lot of people in Vancouver,” he says.