Ontario Federation of Agriculture Commentary By Don McCabe, OFA President
Extending natural gas throughout rural Ontario is the single best investment Ontario can make to our rural economy. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) has been working hard to make sure every level of government understands the urgency and importance of this message. The expansion of Ontario’s natural gas infrastructure to rural and farming communities supports economic development, job creation and a more affordable cost of living for rural Ontario. It is needed infrastructure for long term goals in this province, and ability to harness new opportunities like renewable natural gas in the future.
There are recent references to phasing out natural gas, leaked in an Ontario government report as part of the Climate Change Action Plan. OFA continues to advocate for vital natural gas infrastructure expansion to rural Ontario in spite of this leak. This includes working closely with Union Gas and Enbridge to explore opportunities to expand gas lines throughout rural Ontario, and engaging with ministries and with the current Ontario Energy Board (OEB) hearings.
In 2015, Ontario’s Minster of Energy asked the OEB to examine opportunities to enable access to natural gas services to communities across the province. This resulted in five proposed projects requiring some flexibility to finance rural and remote community expansion. In January 2016, the OEB began a generic review of those recommendations to establish a common framework and provide guidance to all parties looking to service Ontario communities with natural gas. The Generic Review is still underway, seeking stakeholder input on a number of issues including flexible regulations to test community viability, rate making and rate recovery approaches, establish community exemption criteria, new utility entrant processes and economic impacts of related government programs.
Natural gas expansion makes sense. Investing in natural gas for our rural and farming communities will make substantial improvements to local economies and living standards. OFA will be looking carefully at the Climate Change Action Plan when it is released in June. The leaked information suggests continued rural expansion and production from agricultural sources while prohibiting natural gas use for home heating and other requirements. This sends a confusing message to Ontarians. The full costs and benefits of any proposed Action Plan must be analyzed. OFA will be working to ensure Ontario’s farm competitiveness is not unduly compromised in a move away from our most competitive source of energy.
In the short to medium term rural Ontario can benefit from hundreds of millions of dollars per year in new disposable income by saving energy costs with natural gas versus electric heat. This benefit must be weighed against all other economic factors including the real greenhouse gas reductions of the Climate Change Action Plan to determine the best public policy.