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City of Nanaimo curious about its authority to limit new natural gas hookups

Council votes 5-4 to ask for report, including legal advice
Nanaimo city council voted to ask for a report, with a legal opinion, on its ability to limit new natural gas hookups through development permitting. (News Bulletin file photo)

City council wants to know what sort of authority it has to keep developers from hooking up natural gas when building new homes in Nanaimo.

Council, at a meeting Monday, May 15, passed a consent motion to ask for a report on whether it can establish guidelines limiting the use of natural gas through the development permitting process.

The city’s draft integrated action plan, a document to guide the implementation of the Nanaimo Reimagined city plan, already includes a call for advocacy for a moratorium on new natural gas hookups.

At a governance and priorities meeting May 8, Coun. Tyler Brown requested a report, with a legal opinion, on the city’s ability to limit the use of of high-carbon energy systems. He stressed that the motion wouldn’t represent an immediate moratorium, but suggested new residential builds, in particular, do not require natural gas servicing.

“When we look at the efforts that citizens have made over previous years since the city has been trying to tackle climate action, unfortunately those efforts have been essentially neutralized by the expansion of natural gas infrastructure within the City of Nanaimo,” he said.

Brown said if the report ends up determining that the city can’t limit natural gas hookups, then council can instead focus its approach on advocating to the provincial government for a moratorium.

“The way I see this is if this is a successful avenue forward, there wouldn’t need to be that advocacy, and vice-versa, if it’s not, then that advocacy becomes more important,” he said.

RELATED: City of Nanaimo draft plan calls for B.C.-wide moratorium on new natural gas connections

A majority of committee members supported his motion, including Coun. Paul Manly, who called it the type of work the city needs to do.

“We need to make some moves on climate action. We are in a climate crisis. It’s very clear…” he said. “Our young people expect us to be taking appropriate action.”

Coun. Ben Geselbracht also cited environmental reasons for supporting the motion, and added that technology is transitioning and so people don’t necessarily have to choose between emissions reduction and affordability.

However, other members of council weren’t so sure.

“We wonder, how do we build homes that are even in an affordable range? Well, this is certainly not the way to do it,” said Coun. Janice Perrino.

Mayor Leonard Krog said a city of 100,000 people limiting natural gas wouldn’t make a substantive difference and wondered if the city would be better off spending the money to plant 100 trees.

“I’m not prepared to support something that may send a signal in terms of investment to the business community … who may wish to actually build some housing in our fair city,” he said. “If we’re suggesting we’re going to get tougher and have more restrictive guidelines, that will frankly encourage that housing, those businesses, that construction to go to another community. I just can’t see the value in that risk.”

The governance and priorities committee voted in favour of the motion 5-4. Krog and councillors Perrino, Ian Thorpe, and Sheryl Armstrong were opposed, and all four reiterated their opposition at this week’s council meeting.

RELATED: Renewable natural gas debated as Nanaimo considers environmental goals of its next city plan

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About the Author: Greg Sakaki

I have been in the community newspaper business for two decades, all of those years with Black Press Media.
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