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Nanaimo city council gets started on bylaw limiting natural gas

Council passes first three reading of building amendment bylaw related to zero carbon step code
Nanaimo city council voted in favour of three reading of a bylaw amendment bylaw related to implementation of the zero carbon step code. (Stock photo)


The City of Nanaimo introduced a building bylaw that is being put in place to phase out natural gas as a primary heat source in new homes.

City council, at a meeting Monday, Sept. 25, voted in favour of the first three readings of a building amendment bylaw to adopt the highest level of the province’s zero carbon step code nine months from now.

Council had already voted four weeks ago to comply with the zero carbon step code six years ahead of the provincial timeline, so this week’s vote was essentially bylaw bookkeeping. Nevertheless, there was about half an hour of debate.

Coun. Tyler Brown said the arguments have been sensationalized and have prevented actual dialogue, but he credited staff’s work and recommendations on the file.

“This has been a matter that’s been well-studied for decades and some of the world’s smartest people have concluded that there’s significant changes that are occurring and it’s the result of energy choices,” Brown said.

Others, including Coun. Paul Manly, also pointed to environmental reasons for voting to accelerate implementation of the zero carbon step code.

“Forests are burning. We’re seeing extreme weather and extreme floods, the Arctic is warming and melting. We are in a climate emergency and we have the responsibility to do something about it,” he said.

Coun. Ben Geselbracht said there seems to be some “group denialism that we can continue on the path that we’re doing,” and said city council is committed to evidence-based policy.

He added that he doesn’t really buy concerns around affordability, and commented that costs between heating with natural gas and electric heat pumps are comparable, both at the construction phase and in daily operation.

“We have the technology now available to switch our homes over to be heated [by] high-efficiency electric systems and now we have the provincial legislation that actually allows us to enact it,” Geselbracht said.

Not all members of council were in agreement. Coun. Janice Perrino feared that the high cost of electricity would be felt by the residents who can least afford it.

“In town I’ve heard comments like ‘heat or eat’ and that to me is the major concern…” she said. “The cost for families will be considerably higher using electricity alone and [to] me, this bylaw is unfair.”

She added that it’s unreasonable to be asking Nanaimo businesses to adapt to the zero carbon step code six years ahead of other places. She said accelerating implementation of the zero carbon step code is overstepping council’s role, especially since she felt council should be creating, supporting and promoting business.

READ ALSO: Fossil fuels industry targets Nanaimo after move to block natural gas

Coun. Ian Thorpe agreed, saying council has received dozens of letters from developers, contractors and tradespeople asking for time to adjust to the demands of the zero carbon step code.

“What [this] will do is put an unreasonable stress on local builders and developers to comply very quickly,” he said. “Local businesses will be adversely affected, new homeowners will be adversely affected with a lack of choice, it will take away consumer choice when it comes to heating and cooking.”

Council voted 5-3 in favour of all three readings of the building bylaw amendment to implement B.C.’s zero carbon step code. Councillors Perrino, Thorpe and Sheryl Armstrong were opposed and Mayor Leonard Krog was absent.

The day after the meeting, Fortis B.C. issued a statement noting that its existing gas infrastructure safely and reliably delivers energy to B.C. homes and businesses, and said B.C. needs energy policies that support “diversified pathways” including electricity and natural gas including renewable natural gas.

“By disregarding the voices of residents, small businesses and local industry, Nanaimo city council has decided to pursue a policy that will limit access to low-carbon and renewable energy options that can help to lower emissions,” the utility company stated.

READ ALSO: Council vote means natural gas won’t be used to heat new homes in Nanaimo

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