A row of grey gas meters mounted on an exterior wall

BC Utilities Commission rejects Fortis proposal

On March 20, 2024, the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) rejected a key FortisBC proposal which would have encouraged the further expansion of fossil gas infrastructure in our province. While the BCUC focused on maintaining fair pricing for existing customers in its reasons for the decision, this rejection also represents a huge climate win for British Columbians, including the many Kamloops residents who wrote letters in response to our request.  

Fortis put forward several proposals involving renewable natural gas or RNG (also known as biomethane). These proposals included keeping the current voluntary portion of the RNG program with some modifications (which was approved by the BCUC) and adding two mandatory components: a mandatory blend service (which was approved) and a mandatory connections service (which was not approved). 

Several municipalities, NGOs and individuals around the province welcomed BCUC’s rejection of this last proposal because it would have forced existing gas customers to heavily subsidize new gas connections, making the transition away from fossil fuels much more difficult. Fortis would have had the opportunity to designate new residential hookups, for the lifetime of that unit, as receiving RNG (which is objectively more expensive) while charging the same price as for fracked natural gas. This would have resulted in significant rate increases for current Fortis customers. It also would have incentivized homebuilders to connect to gas rather than install heat pumps by creating an uneven playing field in the quest to meet the higher efficiency targets set by BC’s Energy Step Code. 

This result would have been a net increase in conventional fossil gas use and overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Burning fossil gas and RNG (which are chemically identical and basically methane) contributes to an unhealthy community, interferes with climate targets, and delays the inevitable and essential transition away from fossil fuels. Furthermore, methane is up to 86 times more potent as a GHG than carbon dioxide.

Transition Kamloops as well as other NGOs like the BC Sustainable Energy Association, Canadian Physicians and Nurses for the Environment, and First Things First Okanagan pushed back against FortisBC’s claim that RNG was a legitimate option in the necessary shift toward carbon-neutral residential housing. For more information, please see this September 2023 blog post.

Citizens for Climate Action (CCA), a working group formed during Transition Kamloops’ initial Climate Action Fest, began organizing in Kamloops when a FortisBC spokesperson came to Council in September, asking for a letter of support for its BCUC application. We were amazed and grateful that over 100 of you responded to our call to action and sent letters to City Council in the 24 hours leading up to the Council meeting. Additionally, members of CCA prepared speeches in response to Fortis’ delegation to Council. Unfortunately, Council voted to go ahead and send a letter of support to the BCUC in favour of Fortis before hearing from us (or even from staff) on the issue.

Nevertheless, people from around Kamloops continued to mobilize and we turned our energy to the BCUC, which was accepting public comments. The Proceedings page, including the numerous Kamloops-based submissions, can be found here.

We’re glad that BCUC put the interests of British Columbians first and listened to the countless experts, organizations, and concerned citizens who opposed this proposal. RNG is a limited resource and should be saved for applications that are hard to decarbonise, such as some types of manufacturing and long-haul transportation. For more information on RNG and Fortis’ greenwashing tactics, please see these resources: 10 things to know about Fortis’ RNG proposal, First things first Okanagan, Unnatural Gas, Transition Kamloops summary, and Four Fatal Flaws of RNG.

It is imperative we switch away from natural gas as an energy source. Renewable sources of energy such as solar, hydro, kinetic, or even geothermal are all much more sustainable options. Electric heat pumps are the leading alternative to heating with natural gas heating, and have been shown to be incredibly efficient at a wide range of temperatures and can save homeowners hundreds per year, especially when combined with a more efficient building envelope. Moreover, research has shown newer cold-climate heat pumps to work just fine in colder temperatures, such as in Prince George and even Nordic countries, refuting a common talking point of FortisBC and natural gas proponents. 

Fortis is a gas company struggling to compete in an era where their product is becoming increasingly obsolete, and the RNG scheme was an attempt to retain market share. There have been increasing complaints about greenwashing and criticism of their communication practices.  In fact, in the wake of this BCUC decision, Fortis is being sued for misinformation. You can sign the petition here.

Thank you for your hard work in achieving this victory. Let’s remain vigilant and engaged in our local community, as there appears to be a serious risk of our Council putting necessary climate action on the backburner. Stay tuned for more on that later. For now, let’s savour this win!

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