Plan to reduce Ontario emissions calls for incentives for energy efficiency, natural gas phase-out

A Plan for Green Buildings, Jobs and Prosperity for Ontario  was released on September 15 by Environmental Defence and the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. It is a plain-language guide to why and how to reduce carbon emissions from “fossil gas” (aka natural gas) and a summary of the co-benefits of doing so: create good green jobs, lower energy bills, and economic growth. The report states that Ontario’s carbon emissions from power generation are on track to increase by more than 300% by 2030, and offers specific actions which would instead reduce emissions from fossil gas by 30 – 40%.

The Plan proposes: heavy government investment in programs for building energy efficiency, including grants and low-interest financial schemes to encourage consumer buy-in (for example, allowing  repayment on energy or property tax bills);  Phase out of fossil fuel power generation by 2030;  Net-zero building standards in construction;  Redirecting funds which currently subsidize natural gas pipelines (estimated at $234 million) to subsidize lower-cost zero-carbon heating alternatives; and reserving hydrogen and renewable fuels for the hardest-to decarbonize sectors like aviation and heavy industry.   

The report cites modelling done by Dunsky Energy Consulting in The Economic Impact of Improved Energy Efficiency in Canada  (2018) to claim that  the energy efficiency programs alone would create over 18,500 good jobs, and states that even more would be created locally by green energy and zero-carbon heating programs.

Massachusetts climate legislation almost derailed by opposition to greener building code provisions

An Act creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy was signed into law on March 26, summarized in Governor Charlie Baker’s press release, here . It is a sweeping and ambitious bill which sets emissions reduction targets, including six sectoral goals, culminating in net-zero emissions for the state by 2050; sets appliance efficiency standards; incentivizes electric vehicles; includes environmental justice protections; and orders funding for a clean energy equity workforce and market development program to support employment opportunities for certified minority- and women-owned small business and individuals living in environmental justice communities. 

And as described in “What You Need To Know About The New Mass. Climate Law”  (NPR, WBUR, March 26) ,the Roadmap legislation also authorizes the development of stretch energy codes for net-zero energy buildings. The Department of Energy Resources will announce the final version after public consultations for the next 18 months, after which municipalities can choose to adopt the model codes.  The building code provisions were the major sticking point in the political battle over this legislation, and triggered a Governor’s veto in 2020, thanks to organized opposition from the natural gas industry and real estate industry, both of whom see a potential threat of natural gas bans.  

This Massachusetts example is explained in “Sweeping Mass. climate law revives gas ban battle” (Mar. 29). The broader battle which is forming across the U.S.is described in “Developers clash with  U.S. Cities on vote for greener building codes” in The Energy Mix, and in “A Texas city had a bold new climate plan – until a gas company got involved” in The Guardian (March 1).   The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) describes how this conflict is playing out at the International Code Council (ICC), which sets model building code standards, and which “just threw out the elections process by which state and local government officials recently overcame powerful commercial interests to secure large energy savings.”

Natural gas drives GHG emissions increase for Toronto region and Ontario

The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) is home to 7.4 million people in six municipalities: the City of Toronto, City of Hamilton, Halton, Peel, York and Durham regions. According to a new report released by The Atmospheric Fund (TAF),  the region produces  44 per cent of  total carbon emissions in the province of Ontario.   Top level findings from the report, Reality Check: Carbon Emissions Inventory for the GTHA: “Total carbon emissions in the GTHA increased 5.2% in 2018, reaching 55.5 Mt. . …. showing that since the completion of the coal phase out, emissions are slowly increasing across all regions and nearly all sources.” The report zeroes in on each municipality, and also on sectors, showing that buildings (42.8%), transportation (34.3%), and industry (18.9%) are the most significant sources of emissions in the region.

The key take-away from the report:  “Natural gas is a fossil fuel (methane) and it is the most significant source of emissions in the GTHA and Ontario. In 2018 natural gas increased about 10.6%, or 2Mt CO2 eq. Achieving net zero by 2050 will require phasing out virtually all natural gas from both heating and power production.”  An associated blog , “Toronto has an embarrassing gas problem”  (Feb.18) states: “the City’s latest emissions inventory showed an increase of 68% from natural gas from 2017 to 2018, and plans are afoot to increase gas-fired electricity which will make emissions skyrocket by over 300%. …. Toronto cannot meet its 2030 climate goals or the council-approved TransformTO plan if Ontario’s electricity is increasingly generated with fossil gas.”

Based on this analysis, TAF makes policy recommendations for all three levels of government, calling for near zero emissions standards for new building, acceleration of deeper retrofits for existing buildings, and electrification of heating and transportation while decarbonizing electricity production.  Detailed recommendations regarding retrofitting measures are provided in TAF’s submission to the Federal Budget 2021, and summarized in “Four ways the government should boost the retrofit market” (Feb. 23).  At the municipal level,  TAF is supporting one City of Toronto Councillor’s motion which calls for the provincial government to phaseout all gas-fired electricity generation as soon as possible.  The City of Toronto deferred a vote on that motion, and voted in February on a budget which appears to downgrade the priority for climate initiatives.  “’We can’t afford to lose a year’: Worries abound over Toronto’s plan to reduce climate funding” (CBC, Feb. 18)  provides details.

BlueGreen, AFL-CIO endorse Joe Biden as president

The U.S. BlueGreen Alliance made its first-ever political endorsement on August 26: for the presidential ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.  BlueGreen’s press release states that “Biden’s manufacturing, environmental justice and sustainable infrastructure and clean energy plans align well with the organization’s Solidarity for Climate Action platform.”  That overall platform, released in 2019, has been fleshed out most recently in June, with Manufacturing Agenda: A National Blueprint for Clean Technology Manufacturing Leadership and Industrial Transformation.  It offers practical discussion of its vision:  “With this agenda, the BlueGreen Alliance and our partners put forward a bold program of action to transform the U.S. manufacturing and industrial sectors at the scale and speed our economic and climate challenges demand. By taking the lead in manufacturing the clean technology needed to dramatically reduce the emissions driving climate change, and by upgrading, retooling and cutting emissions across critical industry, we can also rebuild American competitiveness in the global economy, reinvest in hard hit communities, and secure and create good-paying local jobs across America. “

The AFL-CIO has also endorsed the Biden/Harris ticket, though not on the grounds of its climate change platform. President Richard Trumka’s speech at the Democratic National Convention Labor Council was re-posted by Portside as “Trumka to DNC Labor Council: Our Democracy Is at Stake” (Aug. 19) .

And a commentary from Kate Aronoff in The New Republic: “Biden’s Setting Himself Up to Get Blamed for Lost Blue-Collar Jobs” (August 21) is critical of the establishment Democratic policy :

“A transition off of fossil fuels isn’t some far-off theoretical policy debate: It’s happening now in the most unjust way possible. Failing to reckon with that reality sets up Democrats in 2022 and 2024 to take the blame for the industry’s decline. This is all easy to avoid, but Democrats have to be willing to build a generous safety net instead of catering to deficit hawks. And they have to start a frank conversation within the Democratic coalition about the fact that fossil fuel jobs are already disappearing—even without robust climate policy.”

Newfoundland says No to Fracking, for now

The Newfoundland Minister of Natural Resources announced on November 4th that the government “will not be accepting applications for onshore and onshore to offshore petroleum exploration using hydraulic fracturing”. The suspension will allow the government time to review fracking rules in other jurisdictions, fully assess potential environmental impacts, and allow for public comments. See the press release at: http://www.releases.gov.nl.ca/releases/2013/nr/1104n06.htm.