By Tom Collins
TORONTO — Last month’s provincial announcement of $100 million to expand natural gas to rural areas is nothing more than election posturing, critics say.
“There’s nothing more behind it,” said Ontario energy consultant Tom Adams. “The Liberals have been almost completely shut out in recent elections in rural areas. They’re trying to rescue their electoral fortunes. The only idea that they’ve got going for them is to spend more money.”
This isn’t the first time the province has even made this announcement. In April, 2015, the province announced the $200 million natural gas access loan and $30 million development grant to encourage communities to partner with utilities to bring forward natural gas expansion plans. No money was actually spent and the $200 million loan program was cancelled. The province increased the $30 million grant program to the $100 million just announced. Critics say the new announcement was simply a re-announcement of a plan that went nowhere.
Energy critic John Yakabuski (PC-Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke) said while every dollar invested in natural gas is important for farmers, the $100 million is “a pretty thin coat of paint across Ontario. It’s a good idea, but it’s a far cry from what they promised a few years ago when they promised $230 million.
“The reality is nothing has flowed to this point so we’ll have to see if they actually keep this promise.”
Sun Media columnist David Reevely said the 2015 announcement went nowhere as natural gas suppliers looked to raise prices for existing customers to pay for the expansion until the Ontario Energy Board ruled that new customers need to cover the cost.
There is no hard data on how much it would cost to get natural gas to all Ontario rural communities. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) has been asking the province to provide at least $75 million per year for 20 years. That’s $1.5 billion.
The money could come from cancelling wind turbine projects that are guaranteed money losers. Cancelling one 3-megawatt wind turbine would save $23.6 million over 20 years. Cancelling all the current projects of 3,900 megawatts would save the province $1.38 billion a year.
The OFA says natural gas is accessible to fewer than 20 per cent of Ontario farms and rural households, and Ontario families switching from electric heat to gas will save $3,800 per year. Switching from propane to nature gas would save $1,800 a year.
Experts say the province is contradicting itself with this announcement. The Liberal government closed natural gas plants but is now potentially increasing natural gas usage. The province brought in a cap-and-trade scheme to reduce carbon emissions but expanding natural gas usage will increase emissions.
“This is the province moving in two opposite directions at the same time,” said Adams.
Energy expert Parker Gallant believes moving to more natural gas use will lead to the province increasing the cap-and-trade tax in the future.
“It’s just scary the way these things are going,” he said. “The only thing now that is emitting C02 within the energy sector are those gas plants. It’s going to increase emissions in the gas sector, and the gas sector therefore will get hit with increased emissions, and they will pass those costs onto consumers.”
Gallant paid $2,800 last year to have 150 feet of natural gas pipeline installed to his Prince Edward County house. Cost would vary across the province depending on the type of terrain that would have to be dug.
Gallant is not on board with the province’s natural gas announcement.
“I think it’s a stupid idea,” he said. “The gas companies would do it if they felt that it would be profitable for them. If they felt that they could gain customers by running gas lines to a certain region or area, they’d be doing it. They don’t need grants.”