by SUSAN MANN
Don McCabe, Ontario Federation of Agriculture president, finds little comfort in the provincial government’s assurance that it won’t ban natural gas use in Ontario.
“Words don’t warm people,” McCabe said, explaining that piped gas supplies only 20 per cent of the countryside despite years of pressing the government to expand natural gas infrastructure in rural areas.
Ontario Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray said in a letter, released to several media outlets this week, the province is “not banning natural gas or forcing anyone off of it. In fact, natural gas will continue to play a critical role in the energy mix in Ontario.”
Ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler said the minister released the letter to reinforce his response to media last week in connection with a document leaked to The Globe and Mail outlining the government’s proposed Climate Change Action Plan. The document proposed phasing out natural gas use for home heating in Ontario.
The minister released the letter this week because “there was concern that the record wasn’t being set straight,” Wheeler said.
A ministry news release Thursday announcing a $100 million investment in renewable natural gas production also emphasized there were no intentions of ridding the province of the resource.
“Natural gas, increasingly sourced from cleaner supplies, will continue to play a critical role in Ontario’s energy supply mix for transportation and heating buildings,” the release said. “It is not being banned.”
The release indicated the province intends to foster the use of renewable natural gas, such as methane produced by on-farm biodigesters and landfills, in industrial, transportation and building sectors.
As for the federation’s push to get natural gas for rural Ontario, McCabe said there has been “money identified in the (Ontario) budget (for gas infrastructure expansion) two years in a row.” Now, the Ontario Energy Board is holding hearings on rural natural gas expansion, “which is yet again halting expansion of pipelines.”
McCabe says he doesn’t know when the hearings will conclude.
“The bottom line is rural Ontario needs pipeline and not process,” he notes. “We need this money (from the Ontario budget) to be put into the ground to allow Ontario to be competitive and to continue moving forward. Letters and words no longer fully meet anybody’s idea of where the future is. We all require action on the ground and not words.”
Rural Ontarians’ access to natural gas is far lower than their counterparts in other provinces, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, where farmers in most rural areas have the infrastructure in place to use the fuel, and Manitoba where 80 per cent of rural areas have access to it.
“Natural gas is vitally important to the rural economy,” McCabe noted. And expanding gas infrastructure in rural areas “is absolutely vital to the future.”
McCabe said many different farming sectors need the fuel, which is cheaper that other fuels, including livestock and greenhouse producers along with cash croppers, who can use it to run grain-drying equipment.
The government said last week it plans to make the proposed Climate Change Action Plan public in the spring. The plan will outline actions to help Ontario households and businesses adopt low and no carbon energy in homes, vehicles and workplaces. BF