Decarbonization, the latest buzzword for gas companies

Fortis, one of Canada’s largest gas companies, has laid out its vision for surviving in a world moving away from fossil fuels: use more gas.

Recently, a Fortis representative at a roundtable attended by more than 100 people positioned natural gas as an integral part of the shift toward clean energy. Doug Slater, vice president of indigenous relations and regulatory affairs at FortisBC, said gas is a necessary backup for heating and electricity production and a delivery service for hydrogen, which fossil fuel and hydrogen industry groups promote as a fuel cleaner.

“The gas system is a platform for decarbonization” because it can provide heat and electricity when there is high demand, Slater said. To achieve this, Slater said, FortisBC “will absolutely need (new) customers.”

He said the natural gas of the future will largely be so-called “renewable natural gas” made from organic waste or manure, hydrogen or gas mixed with hydrogen, but that switching to these potentially less harmful fuels requires the money generated by the new ones. customers.

However, according to FortisBC’s own projections, the GNR will only meet a fraction of BC’s demand. The rest of its supply will come from so-called “blue” and “turquoise” hydrogen, which are made from fossil fuels and can be mixed with natural gas. Experts agree that we must stop extracting fossil fuels to avoid even more dangerous planetary warming.

The company’s insistence that it must expand comes during a budding trend by Canadian municipalities to ban natural gas connections in new buildings. Researchers warn that limiting the growth of fossil fuel infrastructure and replacing gas with more sustainable alternatives is key to prevent rampant climate change.

Efforts to ban the gas are being countered by a crackdown by big players in Canada’s natural gas industry. From British Columbia to Quebec, gas companies are using anonymous online campaigns, lobbying and lawsuits to stop these climate efforts.

“FortisBC is in a very difficult situation,” said Jessica McIlroy, buildings program director at the Pembina Institute. “They need to get as many people connected as possible. And that’s really the only way for the business plan to work.”

On the panel with Slater, Dan Woynillowicz, BC Hydro’s external energy advisor and director of Polaris Strategy + Insight, agreed that gas can help reduce the province’s emissions, but only in certain circumstances.

Fortis, one of Canada’s largest gas companies, has laid out its vision for surviving in a world moving away from fossil fuels: use more gas.

Meeting British Columbia’s future energy needs will require “megawatts and molecules, it’s not an either/or,” he said.

Some industrial processes and facilities will continue to need gas, he acknowledged. However, homes, commercial operations and other facilities will be able to transition to more sustainable and efficient electrical alternatives, such as heat pumps. This change must be prioritized, he said.

“This could well lead to a situation [where] “The gas system looks quite different in terms of its size and the type of needs it serves,” he said.

However, the actions of FortisBC and other Canadian gas companies against municipal efforts to phase out the fuel in residential and commercial buildings suggest they will not accept a reduction in their home heating distribution system without a fight. Municipal rules that limit the industry’s access to future customers make it difficult for the company to “build the infrastructure we need in British Columbia to provide enough power,” Slater said.

Industry groups have been fighting for months to retain access to those customers. Last year, FortisBC lobbied British Columbia’s Public Utilities Commission to allow it to label blue hydrogen, which is produced from fossil fuels, as “renewable,” circumventing municipal bans on new natural gas connections. In Quebec, provincial utility Énergir sued a city of 12,000 over its rules restricting the use of natural gas. The municipal government and the company settled the lawsuit in January.

And over the past few weeks, hundreds of people across Canada have received targeted ads from Voice for Energy, a pro-gas group with ties to the industry.

Slater made no secret of why the industry has been vocal in its fight against cities: climate rules.

“We are absolutely going to need those customers,” he said.

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