Province aims to clear regulatory block to natural gas expansion

A new act will allow a mix of investment options to fund more natural gas access

The Ontario Conservative government is opening up the way to greater investment in natural gas infrastructure in Ontario that don’t have it.

Premier Doug Ford announced at the 2018 International Plowing Match (IPM) in Pain Court that a new Natural Gas Act would be introduced soon that will allow for public, private and consumer investment in natural gas pipelines.

Why it matters: Natural gas is a less expensive form of energy than oil or gasoline, meaning those who have access to it have a competitive advantage over those who don’t. Many in rural Ontario still don’t have access.

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Ontario Federation of Agriculture President Keith Currie said the Ontario Energy Board had limited private sector investment in pipelines, hindering the ability to get them built. The Natural Gas Act will direct the energy board to allow such projects.

Natural gas suppliers “Enbridge and Union Gas have been ready to go for quite some time,” said Currie.

Rural Ontario was electrified early in the past century using a mix of funds from government, private businesses and consumer payments. Currie said the same method should be used to move natural gas to more rural areas.

“We heard from people across Ontario that natural gas expansion is important in order to grow businesses, create jobs and compete,” said Ford at the IPM.

The government said the new legislation will encourage private sector companies to partner with communities to create more natural gas infrastructure.

Natural gas is less expensive than propane, so farmers, especially those that dry grain or heat barns, are at a financial disadvantage compared to those who have access to natural gas. Rural residents pay more to heat their homes with oil or propane versus people living on roads with natural gas.

The OFA has asked for a provincial investment of $75 million per year to expand natural gas over 20 years. After that level of investment, there would be an improvement in revenue to the province of $1 billion due to greater economic activity.

“They never disputed that and said that it was probably low. We had five straight (Liberal) budgets that included natural gas expansion,” said Currie, but the provincial government never flowed much money toward the project.

He said he is now “very optimistic” after a long discussion with Monte MacNaughton, Ontario’s new infrastructure minister, after MacNaughton let him know that there would be some movement on the natural gas file announced during the plowing match.

“The first step is putting the parameters in place to allow it to happen.”

The next step is money to support natural gas expansion in a time when provincial budgets are likely to shrink.

“They’ve made the announcement, now we have to hold their feet to the fire,” said Currie.

There was no money included in the IPM announcement, but Currie pointed to about $100 million in the Conservative’s election platform.

Currie said the willingness to listen to rural concerns by ministers across the new provincial government is refreshing.

He recently had an hour and half conversation with Rod Phillips, the environment minister.

“They are listening and we haven’t had that for a while,” he said.

An example is the changes recently announced that should improve responsiveness and ease of processing for livestock predation claims.

The announced changes included clarity on farm business registration numbers relating to the program and creating different values for steers and heifers killed by predators. Those changes could be made by ministerial order, and shortly after Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s minister of agriculture and rural affairs, was installed, he made the changes.

Natural gas lines will need to be built to move the gas to areas of Ontario that don’t have it. Photo: tibu/iStock/Getty Images

About the author

Editor

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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