Can Ontario’s new Long-Term Energy Plan deliver on the province’s promises on a low-carbon future? Unfortunately, not likely. After months of consultation and engagement, Ontario completed its new Long-Term Energy Plan, Delivering Fairness and Choice, late last year which sets out the province’s vision for the energy system over the next decade.
The Long-Term Energy Plan put forward by the Province is not going support us to achieving our climate goals. It fails to include any new targets or initiatives to reduce carbon emissions from Ontario’s energy systems, while also committing to the expansion of natural gas distribution infrastructure – which will likely increase our overall net emissions. The Province’s current climate commitments, including the Paris Agreement, the Pan-Canadian Framework and the Climate Change Action Plan, demand a bold and transformative energy plan designed to enable the transition to a low carbon future.
Since previous draft iterations of the Plan acknowledged that a rapid transition to electricity for transportation and heating is necessary to meet the province’s targets, this final outcome is disappointing. Without a clear commitment and a path forward on electrification in the Plan, it is unlikely that Ontario will achieve our climate objectives.
The Long-Term Energy Plan can be better – so we’ve outlined some highlights and lowlights – areas where we felt a stronger commitment to climate change mitigation is needed:
Renewable Fuel Content
The Plan includes provisions for the development of a renewable fuel content requirement for natural gas. Given the significant reliance on natural gas to heat homes and buildings across the province, establishing a renewable fuel content requirement will ensure that we are reducing overall lifecycle carbon emissions associated with this energy use. However, this is a partial solution to reduce the emissions associated with the use of natural gas; a complete shift away from natural gas to electricity for heating homes will be necessary to reach the provinces carbon emission reduction goals.
Access to data
Informed consumers can significantly reduce their consumption by either changing their habits or investing in energy saving retrofits. Several proposed initiatives, including the rollout of the international Green Button initiative — will empower energy consumers and businesses to access and use their energy data. This renewed commitment will enable stakeholders to access and analyze Ontario’s enormous smart meter database to improve electricity planning and services.
The Plan includes some provisions to provide financial incentives to support the expansion of electric heat pumps. In July 2017, the Save on Energy Heating and Cooling Incentive Program began providing incentives up to $5,800 for Ontario homeowners in electrically heated homes to install air source heat pumps. Furthermore, in December 2017, the Green Ontario Fund announced matching incentives for homes heated by natural gas or other fuels. However, the financial support is not substantial enough to achieve a deep transition away from less sustainable heating sources such as natural gas.
Currently, energy costs associated with electrically heated homes are higher than their natural gas counterparts. While retrofit incentives are offered through the GreenON Fund, this program fails to address the incentive barrier that homeowners face with transitioning from natural gas to electrically heated and cooled homes. Providing funding for the upgrades that are required to transition from natural gas to electricity is only one part of the solution. In order for us to see a meaningful shift away from natural gas, the Plan needs to address this misalignment of incentives through implementing financial tools to address the cost difference between natural gas and electrical heating.
Commitment to Energy Conservation Targets
While the Climate Change Action Plan was referenced in the Long-Term Energy Plan, the Plan did not include solid commitments to reduce carbon emissions from Ontario’s energy systems. To quote, it says:
“The outlook for the supply and demand of fuels will depend on policy and program decisions over the next 20 years, as well as on technological innovation and adoption. Given these uncertainties, the government will continue to undertake modelling and analysis to identify opportunities to decarbonize the fuels sector consistent with the provincial target of reducing GHG emissions by 37 per cent from 1990 levels in 2030.”
Furthermore, the Plan does not reference the emissions reduction scenarios included in previous draft iterations of the Plan.
Expansion of Natural Gas
The Plan includes provisions to expand natural gas pipelines without conducting a cost-benefit analysis of other energy options such as ground or air source heat pumps. For example, it points to the creation of a $100 million natural gas grant program established in April 2017 as well as an OEB decision in August 2017 to expand natural gas infrastructure to several communities throughout the province.
The Province needs a deep transition to renewable energy sources to meets its previously established carbon reduction targets: 37% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. While the Plan has outlined some promising programs, TAF is concerned that in its entirety, the Plan cannot succeed without a clear strategy towards a low-carbon future.