A trio of city policies amounts to a de facto ban on natural gas in pursuit of a "100% renewable energy" target. Moreover, the ban is based on insufficient renewable natural gas and could blunt more effective work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Sept. 19, 2017 – Today Resource Works, with support from the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association, released a study evaluating the City of Vancouver’s prescriptive energy plan and raising concerns about the energy cost implications for residents, civic institutions and businesses.
The study is entitled "Evaluating Energy in the City of Vancouver’s Greenest City Initiative: The “De Facto” Ban on Natural Gas."
It finds that, taken together, the Renewable City Strategy, the Zero Emissions Building Plan and the Green Buildings Policy for Rezonings (including the Bylaw) do mean a de facto ban on natural gas in pursuit of the City’s 100% renewable energy target by 2050.
Insufficient renewable natural gas is expected to be available to replace conventionally produced natural gas in the time frame under discussion. The study also raises concerns that the focus on the renewable energy target could blunt the greenhouse gas reduction benefit by disregarding other non-emitting energy sources and stifling new technology deployment.
The City’s strategy raises a number of questions that have yet to be adequately answered. Higher costs for households, civic institutions like hospitals and community centres, and businesses of all sizes seem inevitable and could result in declining affordability and competitiveness.
Findings in Brief
The author finds that there is a “de facto” ban on natural gas being imposed under the City of Vancouver’s Greenest City Initiative. Insufficient renewable natural gas is expected to be available to replace conventional natural gas in the time frame under discussion. The City’s strategy and renewable energy target raise a number of questions that have yet to be adequately answered. Higher costs for residents, businesses, and institutions seem inevitable and could simply result in some activities being relocated to other jurisdictions.
- A review of the City of Vancouver’s recent Greenest City Initiative documents (the Renewable City Strategy (RCS), the Zero Emissions Building Plan and the Green Buildings Policy for Rezonings - including the Bylaw) indicates that in order to meet the City’s 100% renewable energy target, it does intend to ban conventional natural gas – in new buildings by 2030 and from all uses by 2050.
- Without major technology advancements, there will not likely be sufficient renewable natural gas (biomethane) produced in British Columbia over the time horizon to replace conventional natural gas. This means it is likely impossible to meet the City of Vancouver’s estimated biomethane consumption levels by 2050.
- Greenhouse gas emissions reductions resulting from the policy change have not been sufficiently analysed in the City’s documents to conclude that pursuing a 100% renewable target will deliver the desired climate benefit. This suggests that the policy confuses means (100% renewable target) with ends (GHG emissions reductions). This prescriptive approach risks precluding technological advances and/or efficiency measures that could have greater emissions reduction benefits.
- In the absence of an analysis by the City, we developed a (very) rough energy price scenario based on various studies and energy agency outlooks. While it is impossible to forecast prices over the long time horizon to 2050, it suggests that the only conventional energy source that is likely to remain abundant and comparatively low cost in British Columbia is natural gas.
- We suggest that energy costs are likely to go up, even with new efficiency standards in buildings. In consequence, competitiveness and affordability are likely to be compromised.
- If the City of Vancouver opts out of existing utility services, it would create a “doughnut hole” problem for the metro Vancouver region: embedded long-term infrastructure costs will be borne by a narrower ratepayer base.
- Methodological gaps in the City’s RCS and related plans and policies call for additional detailed analysis of energy price impacts and potential GHG emissions reduction benefits. Residents, community institutions and businesses are entitled to understand the potential effects on them of the City’s planned phase-out of natural gas as an energy source in Vancouver.