The City of Nanaimo, as it establishes its environmental goals for the coming decades, is considering asking the province to put a stop to new natural gas connections.
The ReImagine Nanaimo draft integrated action plan, not yet a public document, includes a call for the city to “advocate to the province of B.C. for a moratorium on all new natural gas connections,” according to a city staff report.
The topic has been discussed repeatedly at the committee level. It was a recommendation of the environment committee and was passed as part of a list of consent items by city council in December. However, it was not specifically included in the ReImagine Nanaimo draft city plan, and Coun. Ben Geselbracht, at a governance meeting March 14, brought it forward, asking that the city add language in the city plan around discouraging natural gas use and lobbying the province to limit new natural gas connections.
Among the committee members supporting the motion was Coun. Tyler Brown.
“When the good folks of Nanaimo are doing things to reduce their personal greenhouse emissions and as a result of increasing natural gas hookups it’s making our job that much harder, I just don’t think it makes sense…” Brown said. “If you’re serious about climate action and if you’re serious about supporting the efforts of the individuals in Nanaimo that have been trying to respond to this, it is a no-brainer to try to limit natural gas connections in residential households when there is more than enough viable alternatives.”
A majority of committee members voted against Geselbracht’s motion. Mayor Leonard Krog said he wouldn’t support such a “significant change” without more information and further discussion, Coun. Jim Turley said he wouldn’t support any motion “that involves meddling in the marketplace” and Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said she was voting against the motion for affordability reasons.
“It’s the cost factor. It really helps those people that are on limited incomes because once you go to electric, it’s extremely expensive and it’s only going to go up as more and more of us move towards that direction,” she said. “I think that’s the way of the future, but I don’t think we’re there yet.”
The committee voted 5-4 against the motion with Krog and councillors Turley, Armstrong, Ian Thorpe and Zeni Maartman opposed.
That wasn’t the end of the debate, however, as two weeks later, the topic was back on the agenda at the March 28 governance and priorities committee meeting. Dale Lindsay, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer, explained that the environment committee’s recommendation for advocacy for a moratorium on natural gas connections, though not mentioned in the draft city plan, is included in the accompanying action plan.
Coun. Don Bonner said he would prefer the recommendation be added to the city plan to ensure it remains on the to-do list of city councils over the coming years.
“Every time a new natural gas connection gets installed in a house, it will then be using gas until for whatever reason it changes, and that could be decades,” said Bonner. “So the concept here is that limiting the amount of natural gas connections will give us the ability at a later date to lower our carbon footprint.”
Geselbracht said it’s “very clear” that the City of Nanaimo won’t achieve its emission reduction goals if it doesn’t limit natural gas use.
He said natural gas has been effectively promoted as the cheaper option, but said when new building efficiency requirements are factored in, the savings don’t necessarily add up.
“The actual clarity and the reality of the situation is not very apparent to the community and I think it requires a lot more initiative from municipalities…” Geselbracht said. “It’s very clear that we don’t have the powers ourselves to limit natural gas connections, but we can make it a policy to advocate for that.”
Turley expressed reservations about “getting into a fight” with natural gas utility Fortis.
Committee members were not required to vote again on the issue at the March 28 meeting, but Lindsay mentioned that the governance and priorities committee’s city plan steering recommendations will be revisited in May during a series of meetings at the committee and council tables.