Gas giant Fortis loses a round

The BC Public Utilities Commission (BCUC) has dealt a blow to the province’s gas utility’s efforts to expand natural gas infrastructure in the province.

On Wednesday, the regulator denied a request by FortisBC for permission to use 100 per cent so-called “renewable natural gas” in new buildings and offload the additional cost onto existing consumers. It is estimated that these additional costs will reach $750 million only between 2024 and 2032.

“Renewable natural gas” (RNG) is produced from organic waste or manure and costs more than conventional fossil gas. However, BC does not produce enough fuel to meet demand, so the company’s RNG proposal depended on purchasing offset credits generated by RNG facilities elsewhere in Canada and the US.

If accepted, the measure would have allowed the gas company to circumvent municipal climate regulations that restrict the use of conventional fossil-based natural gas in new buildings. Researchers warn that limiting the growth of fossil fuel infrastructure and replacing gas with more sustainable alternatives are key to prevent rampant climate change.

“The BCUC did absolutely the right thing,” said Liz McDowell, a buildings activist with Stand.earth. “Being able to channel 100% RNG through people’s homes was a fiction. It was never going to happen.”

In the ruling, the BCUC asserted that FortisBC’s plan would have unfairly required existing consumers to foot the bill for future customers’ default use of RNG. The commission’s mandate gives it limited power to consider the environmental costs associated with climate change and the use of fossil fuels.

“It seemed like undue price discrimination to us,” said Mark Jaccard, president and CEO of the BCUC.

However, the commission granted Fortis permission to sell the fuel to new and existing customers through an optional program where gas users can pay an additional fee ($7 per gigajoule) to offset their fuel with RNG. It also approved the company’s request to blend RNG with fossil-based gas sold to all consumers to ensure the gas company can meet its provincially mandated greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

“I find this decision interesting because the BCUC does not have a climate mandate So this is not a decision about greenhouse gases or anything like that,” said George Benson, former member of the Climate Solutions Council. “The BCUC, as it did in its Okanagan decision earlier this year, appears to say it has questions about the fairness to consumers and the economics of continuing to expand the gas network in BC.”

The BC Public Utilities Commission has dealt a blow to the province’s gas utility’s efforts to expand natural gas infrastructure in the province. #FortisBC #RNG #NaturalRenewableGas

Benson said RNG can play a role in reducing carbon emissions by fueling it associated with some energy-intensive industrial processes, but because the fuel supply is limited and expensive, it should be prioritized for those uses. . Home heating and cooking (the primary uses of natural gas in residential and commercial buildings) can generally be more economically, safely, and healthily replaced with electric alternatives.

According to a 2022 study official by the David Suzuki Foundation from a team of researchers at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, could meet its energy needs with renewable energy by 2035 by strengthening its wind and solar generation and grid infrastructure. Additionally, researchers have found that electric heat pumps consistently outperform gas boilers in efficiencyparticularly in warmer parts of BC

In a statement, FortisBC vice president of indigenous relations and regulatory affairs Doug Slater said the company is “pleased with this decision as it confirms that the gas system will continue to play a key role in meeting residents’ energy needs.” of British Columbia and lays the foundation for activities that will span the next 20 years.

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