Natural Gas “ban” in Vancouver and what Port Alberni is doing

Subtitle: “In defense of difficult, yet necessary, conversations and policy.”

(Updated, see P.S. And P.P.S. At the bottom)

I am about to say something controversial. (Big surprise right? :)).

The City of Vancouver’s policy on 100% use of renewable energy by residents and business in the City and an 80% reduction in GHG emissions before 2050 is proper, wise, policy.  (I have a problem with their claim of using “renewable natural gas” but we’ll get to that another time)

It is far from popular. I listened to the screaming on CKNW yesterday that they would “ban” natural gas (which isn’t right… it is a phase out, not a ban) and have witnessed plenty of angry 😱😤😤😱😡😡 emoticons across Facebook and Twitter. (There appears to be confusion, possibly intentionally sown? between the targets for new construction and renovation markets, clarification here)  This is an understandable and reasonable reaction.

But here’s the thing: If we all accept the climate science, and most Canadians do (“Canadians Back Bold Climate Action“), and we are serious about addressing the problem then this must happen. There is no way around it.

843

What is that number? That is our CO2 “budget”. That is the amount, in billions of tonnes (GigaTonnes) of CO2 humanity can emit after 2015 in order to have a good chance of limiting warming to less than 2°C.  It is from the IPCC and reiterated in a report released yesterday.

The city of Vancouver is planning for there to be zero use of Natural Gas by 2050. People are very upset.  People, especially folks like the Canadian Tax Payers, Federation say it costs too much money.  And yet what those voices ignore is the cost of doing nothing.  Not reducing our total fossil fuel usage to zero before hitting that 843 budget will have consequences that will cost taxpayers billions, perhaps trillions, of dollars.  Already, we have had disasters like those in Fort MacMurray, connected to climate change, that will cost the insurance industry billions, cost government hundreds of millions just for dealing with the disasters at the time (Infrastructure repair comes later), and cost residents thousands in expenses trying to put their lives back together.  The same goes for other flooding and fire disasters in Canada over the past few years. And this, with only 1ºC of warming in the world so far…

So this policy is what climate action means. In order to stop pushing our planet to an unliveable state, we must stop using fossil fuels and a gradual decline to zero before 2050 makes sense. Replacing heating appliances using Natural Gas with electricity and requiring buildings to be far more energy efficient is the low hanging fruit.

So you might ask if there are similar plans in Port Alberni. Do we have similar reduction targets? No. Should we? Honestly, yes, but we’re not there yet. Instead, we are working on policies that will help people transition even if the implied end goal is not yet spelled out.

The City of Port Alberni is working on a program to be implemented soon that will give homeowners rebates if they switch their oil (and possibly natural gas) home heating appliances (furnaces) to electric.  There are similar programs in Nanaimo and other cities.  There will also be rebates that will encourage making your home more energy efficient because the best way to save money isn’t to pick the cheapest fuel, it is to reduce the need for any fuel at all.

We will try to help that happen and in the process we will be starting to make the required reductions that Vancouver has been so brave as to state in full.  We will all need to be more brave in the coming years, this change will be very rewarding, but undeniably difficult.

P.S.
By the way, the conclusions of the report I linked to at the top before the little table…. was that the math shows us we cannot start any new fossil fuel infrastructure. None.  The operations in the world today that are currently extracting coal, oil, and gas, have more than enough carbon in them to put us over the 2ºC limit (just under 1000 gigatonnes).  So that makes questions about whether or not to support things like LNG, Kinder Morgan, Dakota Access, and other new infrastructure pretty moot…. the report recommends no new fossil fuel infrastructure be approved or built.

This reinforces many research papers published recently showing that 99% of unconventional (i.e.. oilsands and fracked gas) and 72% of conventional oil reserves remaining in Canada must stay in the ground. (Nature – data table 3)

P.P.S.

There seems to be talk in the media about an incredible 70% decrease in 4 years.  This is false.

The 70% by 2020 refers to new construction only, not existing buildings (renos). Vancouver are focusing on their building bylaws (because they can do that under the Vancouver Charter). They want all new construction to be 100% renewable by 2030. 90% by 2025. This is Reasonable.

Here is the report that is being referenced, it says:

“Analysis undertaken in the development of the Renewable City Strategy estimated that of all the buildings (measured by floor space not number of structures) that are anticipated by 2050:
30% would be built prior to 2010
30% would be built between 2010 and 2020
40% would be built after 2020.

If all buildings are to use only renewable energy by 2050, the sooner new buildings achieve near zero emissions, the fewer buildings there will be that require costly and challenging deep energy retrofits to achieve the target.”

The best way to make that switch isn’t shift from nat gas to electricity, it is to reduce energy usage to as close to zero as possible, and that is exactly what they have proposed to require new developments to do by adopting Passive House or alternative zero emission building standards”

from their third recommendation:

“THAT Council direct staff to build all new City-owned and Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) projects to be Certified to the Passive House standard or alternate zero emission building standard, and use only low carbon fuel sources, in lieu of certifying to LEED Gold unless it is deemed unviable by Real Estate and Facilities Management, or VAHA respectively, in collaboration with Sustainability and report back with recommendations for a Zero Emissions Policy for New Buildings for all City-owned and VAHA building projects by 2018.”

Council Document