Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Nanaimo butts heads with FortisBC over new ‘climate-friendly’ construction bylaws

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Nanaimo city council wants to have future construction endeavours using up-to-date and climate-friendly practices, but natural gas industries have been pushing back against the initiative.

On Monday, August 28th, Nanaimo’s city council voted five-to-four for a bylaw that would have any new construction project have to adhere to the province’s Zero Carbon Step Code beginning in July, 2024.

The Zero Carbon Step Code essentially allows municipalities to regulate their own greenhouse emissions in an effective and outlined way. 

“We have a real opportunity here to tangibly demonstrate our commitment to our own climate-action targets and the health and future viability of our home,” said Nanaimo Councillor Hilary Eastmure, who voted in favour of the new policy. 

“We’ve heard from residents, business owners, developers, builders, and energy providers who are saying yes, this is doable and desirable, and there’s no time like the present. Literally, there’s no time for us to delay on this — we’re in a climate crisis and we need to make policy decisions accordingly.” 

“It’s about leadership, doing our part, and doing what’s best for future generations,” she continued.

By passing this bylaw, it will effectively not allow natural gas to be a source of heat for new builds which will have detrimental impacts on FortisBC’s business in the area as a utility provider. 

FortisBC recently came under fire in an expose written by Glacier Media for redacting an independent report used to lobby municipalities to keep the natural gas industry alive while the province leans further and further into green and climate-friendly energy.

Victoria Buzz reached out to FortisBC for comment on the Nanaimo vote and how that will impact their future in the Nanaimo region. 

“It is disappointing to see the five-to-four vote by Nanaimo City Council to eliminate gas from new buildings,” said Jason Wolfe, Director of Energy Solutions at FortisBC.

Wolfe says that FortisBC will be working towards achieving lower-carbon solutions for BC and its residents and that the decision made in Nanaimo will not impact existing customers.

He also claims that this decision will be a detriment in the short term to people who are struggling with affordability and by eliminating FortisBC from the playing field, people may see an increased cost-of-living. 

“Today’s natural gas system is tomorrow’s renewable and low-carbon system. The infrastructure and energy are available today – it is simply a question of how we can best use them to serve British Columbians,” Wolfe said in his statement to Victoria Buzz.  

“By using our existing gas infrastructure to carry renewable and low-carbon gas, we can reduce emissions while meeting British Columbia’s energy needs, even during peak periods like winter,” he added. 

Wolfe says that net-zero buildings will be possible with gas systems in place when customers and engineers prefer it be used. He sees FortisBC’s role in finding the pathway to that outcome as an important one. 

“There is not one single solution to combating climate change. We need to work together and keep every option available,” Wolfe concluded. 

FortisBC did not mention the redacted documents they had come under fire for in their statement to Victoria Buzz.


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The grassroots non-profit environmental advocacy group Stand.earth were big supporters of the new bylaw and have supported similar initiatives across BC. 

Liz McDowell, Senior Campaigns Director for Stand.earth says that given the real and tangible evidence of the climate crisis, such as this year’s record breaking wildfire season, action must be taken to quickly reduce fossil fuels by simply not burning them. 

“In BC, gas used in buildings currently accounts for 12% of all greenhouse gas emissions and, in cities, that number soars to 40%,” McDowell said, while she addressed Nanaimo councillors before their vote.  “The best way to address these emissions? Stop burning gas in buildings.” 

“In fact, numerous studies have found that installing highly efficient heat pumps and electric boilers are one of the most effective climate actions local governments can take,” she added. 

BC’s 2022 Climate Change Accountability Report puts 2020’s residential and commercial building emissions at 7.3% rather than 12% as  stated by McDowell.

Furthermore, FortisBC states, “building emissions for cities would be different for each city as each has their own mix of residential, commercial and industrial energy users.”

“Inflating these numbers oversimplifies the challenge and misleads the public as to actual effectiveness of eliminating gas in new buildings.”

Despite the hard feelings between FortisBC and the Nanaimo council, the city is now one of over a dozen communities across BC to embrace climate-friendly solutions to energy and heat. 

Other municipalities that have embraced the endeavour in similar bylaws are Victoria, Saanich,  Central Saanich, Whistler, Nelson, West Vancouver, the District of North Vancouver and City of North Vancouver.

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Curtis Blandy
curtis@victoriabuzz.com

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