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Liberals won’t confirm climate plan

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TORONTO—Ontario’s environment minister insists the province won’t eliminate natural gas for home heating as part of a soon-to-be-released plan to fight climate change.

Glen Murray refused to confirm or deny a Globe and Mail report saying the province would spend $7 billion over four years to reduce its carbon footprint—partly by phasing out natural gas and greatly increasing the number of electric vehicles on the road.

“Within the next couple of weeks, you’ll see the entire action plan, supporting documents will be properly released,” Murray told reporters.

The province’s goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, 37 percent by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050.

The Globe said it obtained a copy of the Climate Change Action Plan that calls on the province to phase out natural gas for heating, which currently is used in 76 percent of Ontario homes.

It said the government would spend $3.8 billion on grants, rebates, and subsidies to retrofit buildings and move them off natural gas and onto geothermal, solar, or other forms of energy.

The plan would require that all new homes built in Ontario in 2030 or later be heated without the use of fossil fuels.

But this year’s budget committed the government to extending natural gas to rural Ontario, and Murray insisted it still would be an option for home heating.

“Natural gas will continue to play a critical role in the energy mix in Ontario in the future, and beyond that you’ll have to wait to see the details,” he remarked.

“But no, we’re not banning natural gas or taking it away from people.”

Union Gas and Enbridge Gas, the two largest suppliers of natural gas in Ontario, expressed concern the province is considering phasing out natural gas for heating.

“It’s not something we were aware they were contemplating, and that is not something we would support,” Union spokeswoman Andrea Stass said in an interview.

“To mandate natural gas out of existence will be very disruptive and expensive for consumers, and the other side of that is moving to an energy system with only one source and no diversification is risky,” she added.

Enbridge warned phasing out natural gas for heating would be expensive.

“Converting a home from natural gas to electricity would cost about $4,500, and the heating costs would triple, increasing by roughly $2,000 each year,” Enbridge said in a release.

Richard Carlson, a senior energy policy associate at Mowat Energy, funded by Enbridge Gas, Union Gas, the Independent Electricity System Operator, and Toronto Hydro as part of the Mowat Centre think-tank, said having one government agency in charge of the climate change plan would be beneficial.

The Ontario Energy Board held hearings last week about extending natural gas to rural communities, noted Carlson.

“So the Ontario Energy Board is looking to expand the gas grid while the draft [climate change] plan says something different,” he remarked.

Murray also dismissed suggestions there would be uncertainty in the province’s industrial sectors until details of the climate change action plan are released.

“They have been working with us, the nine large-emitting industries, in drafting this plan, so they had a major input into it and they do have a pretty good understanding of what’s coming,” he noted.

The Globe said the Liberal plan sets a target of having 12 percent of all new vehicle sales be electric cars and trucks by 2025, or about 1.7 million vehicles.

There currently are only about 5,800 electric vehicles in Ontario.

The Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association said forcing people to switch to electric cars is not the way to go.

“The key to advancing electric vehicles is actually creating demand and helping consumers actually want to have these vehicles,” said association president Mark Nantais.

“The infrastructure has to be in place,” he stressed.

“The recharging infrastructure must lead the introduction of vehicles, so that consumers have that confidence.”

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