The piece “The Next Target in the Climate Change Debate: your Gas Stove” published in the September 9, 2019 Financial Post highlights how the very animated conversation around climate change, so dominant across North America, can quickly lead to actions that are not well thought out, and that could have a very negative impact on citizens.
First, there is a clarification required. The discussion of “system methane leaks” that is a big part of the U.S. debate is much less relevant to Canada where the natural gas delivery industry phased out cast iron pipe almost a decade ago. Widely used in older gas distribution systems, cast iron pipe is the cause of most distribution system leaks in the U.S., and is now being phased out there too. No gas company wants leaks, however small they might be. Methane is, after all, our product, and leaks represent a waste of that product. Not surprisingly then, our industry is working constantly to reduce methane emissions and our success in doing so is notable. According to data from the Canadian Energy Partnership for Environmental Innovation, emissions per kilometre of distribution gas lines have declined by 46 per cent since 2005 despite a doubling of the pipeline system size and a 45 per cent increase in natural gas use in Canada.
The discussion of banning natural gas connections suggests that the only way to reduce emissions is to move from dependence on multiple energy delivery systems (liquid fuel delivery of fuels like gasoline and diesel by truck over roads, gaseous fuel delivery of fuels like natural gas through underground gas lines, and electric delivery systems of electrons over wires) to delivery by one system: the electric system. This is not true. First, it should be noted that an electric system produces emissions. Electricity is still, in many cases, generated by fuels that produce emissions (coal, oil, natural gas) or technologies that depend on the use of those emitting fuels, such as natural gas backup for intermittent wind. Second, other delivery systems can deliver significant emission reductions, and often do so at lower cost. For example, through our gas lines we can deliver renewable natural gas and hydrogen, and we have an increasing array of innovative technologies that reduce emissions. One of these is the CO2 recovery technology from the company Clean02, recently profiled in the Financial Post. Through our Natural Gas Innovation Fund we are working with a wide range of technology companies to support more innovation like this.
It seems as though the language of crisis is taking such hold that decision-makers are inclined to act impulsively, losing sight of the negative implications of such actions.
One big negative implication for consumers is higher energy costs. Natural gas customers save in the order of $2,000 per year by having access to natural gas for heating – a saving that is forecast to continue well into the future – while electricity prices that are already much higher than natural gas prices are expected to grow higher still.
A second big negative implication is the threat posed to the resiliency of our energy system. When big storms hit, the energy system that faces the biggest challenge isn’t the gas system, it is the electric system. We just saw this in Nova Scotia where the hurricane Dorian had virtually no effect on gas customers but affected hundreds of thousands of electric customers. Not surprisingly, more and more gas customers are asking how they can use technology like combined heat and power to meet electric needs using the gas system.
Decision makers should take a deep breath and calmly reflect on what is best for citizens, in the short term, the medium term, and the long term. Undermining affordability and resiliency while delivering costly single energy system environmental benefits hardly seems like good policy.
The Canadian Gas Association represents the gas delivery sector, but many of our companies operate multiple energy delivery pathways – including electricity systems. We believe Canada’s energy system is stronger when there are more delivery routes, not fewer. To decision makers we say: don’t dictate the design of a system by eliminating choices. Instead, create the conditions where all options are on the table, and all system operators are encouraged to constantly improve their performance for the benefit of Canadians.