Is Vancouver moving too quickly on 100% renewable energy pledge?
Vancouver adopted a Zero Emissions Building Plan last July to “to aggressively combat and reduce carbon pollution” in the city’s building stock. Christy Clark says that if the Liberals are re-elected, the de facto natural gas ban that is part of the plan will be overturned in short order.
Vancouver-Quilchena Liberal candidate Andrew Wilkinson says that the City’s new policy needlessly adds costs to consumers, home buyers and restaurateurs.
“BC Liberals will ensure that natural gas remains an energy option for residents, restaurants and businesses in the City of Vancouver,” he said in a press release.
“While we all agree that climate change must be addressed, banning natural gas from the City of Vancouver at a huge cost to residents is not the way to go.”
The City says builders can still include natural gas appliances (fireplaces, cooking ranges, furnaces, hot water heaters, laundry dryers) in new homes, they just have to be “high efficiency models.”
To “save residents money,” if you please.
But that’s now how the new rules work in practice. What the clever City Hall bureaucrats have done is pretend natural gas appliances are allowed, but designed the restrictions to be so onerous that builders can’t afford to install them.
“They’re just making it so difficult that it’s impossible,” Bruce Rebel, the Ottawa-based representative for the Canadian branch of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, told the Globe and Mail.
“You could put in cooktops, but we would have to weigh the costs,” added Anne McMullin, CEO of the Urban Development Institute, an organization that represents Lower Mainland builders. “In a very high-end penthouse, you might put them in. Or if the demand is high, you would pay more for that.”
There are more than a thousand restaurants in Vancouver who use natural gas in their business, according to Ian Tostensen, CEO of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association.
“My members and their customers will benefit from the stability of knowing natural gas will continue to be available in Vancouver.”
Vancouver was among the first global cities to commit to going 100 per cent renewable energy, back in 2015.
“Vancouver creates enormous economic opportunity by shifting to 100% renewable energy and leading the world’s cities on climate change,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson in a press release.
“Today over 30% of the energy used in our city is renewable. With a pragmatic approach to buildings and transportation, we eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels and make Vancouver a cleaner, healthier, and more resilient city.”
Consumers and builders are now discovering that the Mayor’s “pragmatic approach” comes with higher costs and less choice in how to cook food, heat a home, dry clothing, and heat the shower water.
This minor campaign spat probably won’t sway many votes to the Liberals.
But it does illustrate an important point about public policy choices during the early stages of the Energy Transition: speeding up the adoption of clean energy technologies comes with higher costs and greater risks.
Wilkinson claims that according to FortisBC, a family of four would spend $1,500 more per year if they were required to use electricity over natural gas for space and water heating alone.
That’s not small change, especially in a market where housing costs already stretch family budgets dangerously thin.
And what about higher costs to businesses, like restaurants, that will be passed along to consumers?
And what else is Mayor Robertson and Council up to that will raise costs for businesses and consumers?
Now, if Vancouver voters are willing to pay extra charges to switch to 100 per cent renewable energy, that’s fine assuming they’re making an informed choice.
But too often politicians like to pretend that increasing the pace of the Energy Transition costs nothing when the opposite is true, leaving voters to pick up the tab.
In 2019 let Robertson and his Vision Vancouver colleagues run on this issue – as well as other policies needed to implement the zero emissions building plan and any other plans to reduce emissions in the city, such as banning gasoline-powered vehicles from downtown, as some have suggested.
A thorough public debate during the next civic election is the best way to settle this debate for the foreseeable future.
Ask Vancouver voters if they’re willing to pay for a more aggressive decarbonization of the city.