If you pay attention to natural gas conservation in Ontario, you may feel stuck in Groundhog Day. Progress on this file just stalled again after three years of bureaucratic inertia.
The province’s 2018 Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan heavily emphasized ramping up gas conservation as its core strategy for meeting carbon reduction targets. Since then, Enbridge’s conservation plan expired in 2020. Instead of updating it, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB, the utility regulator) rolled over the 2015-2020 plan for another year.
This month, the OEB once again delayed approving a new plan, extended the old framework to 2022, and froze the budget without even adjusting for inflation. Real investment in natural gas conservation is shrinking year-after-year, despite the environment plan commitment and a wide range of stakeholders (including Enbridge) making the case for increasing investment in cost-effective conservation.
We’re not surprised this isn’t making headlines or political speeches. Utility regulation is nerdy, complex, and opaque. But decisions like this are happening behind the scenes and come at a serious cost to the people of Ontario. Halting progress on gas conservation results in energy waste and carbon emissions, disregards Ontario’s climate commitments, undermines important opportunities for consumers to reduce their energy bills, and delays employment for Ontarians to work on cost-effective energy efficiency projects.
And to add insult to injury, hundreds of millions of tax dollars are being spent to expand gas distribution pipelines which will lock Ontario into a carbon-intensive future despite local, provincial and national targets for a low-carbon economy.
Either the province never intended to carry out their climate plan or they have lost control of their energy regulator. Either way, it’s a future we cannot afford.
As the climate crisis intensifies, over 30 Ontario municipalities have declared climate emergencies. There is no pathway to achieving local, provincial, or national climate targets without much more aggressive gas conservation, yet the OEB and Enbridge don’t seem to have any sense of urgency to match the program to the compelling opportunities to help families save on energy costs and advance climate solutions.
The only possible bright side is that the OEB’s decision to recycle Enbridge’s mediocre framework gives the company another kick at the can to put forward a 2023-2027 Demand Side Management framework that accomplishes financial and environmental objectives. Stakeholders will have a chance to submit comments on Enbridge’s plan later this year, and municipalities are invited to participate in workshops hosted by Pollution Probe to coordinate a joint response. See their summary report of municipal priorities and recommendations here.
We can’t let another year go by – let’s get this right.