A City of Vancouver committee has passed an amended motion for a plan to reduce the use of natural gas infrastructure for stoves and fireplaces in new builds.
The original motion is geared towards climate action and health, but attracted many comments from Vancouver residents and councillors who expressed business, cultural and electrical capacity concerns with banning all natural gas infrastructure. The result is a motion that works towards sustainability initiatives but provides more options than an all-out ban, according to the Standing Committee on Policy and Strategic Priorities.
The committee, which met May 31, has directed staff to report back to council as soon as possible with a plan to update the city’s building bylaws to adopt the top step of the BC Zero Carbon Step Code. This means that no changes have been made to gas usage or infrastructure and will depend on if council approves the recommended changes to the city's building bylaw that staff will report back on.
This differs from the original motion, put forward by Coun. Adriane Carr, to ban all natural gas infrastructure as the top step of the code has two pathways: prescriptive and performance, according to the City of Vancouver. If a builder chooses the performance pathway, there would be allowance for the integration of gas cooking infrastructure. The prescriptive pathway does not allow for natural gas.
Another amendment was also added to ensure that “consideration be given in the plan to equity impacts that may unintentionally and unfairly affect the city’s cultural and equity-denied groups.”
A total of 19 residents registered to speak with 17 people voicing concern or support to council.
The aim of the ban is designed to stifle the residential use of natural gas, but it can also impact restaurant uses in mixed-use developments, according to Ian Tostensen, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association.
Carr said in the committee meeting that she had consulted with two celebrity chefs. Tostensen responded to this saying that he had consulted at least a dozen local chefs who all indicated that they are opposed to the original motion.
“Our industry has gone through so much uncertainty. I realized it was directed at residential but where the nuance was that we saw was residential buildings might be mixed-use, and it'll prevent a restaurant from going in there because no gas comes into the building,” he said in an interview with Glacier Media.
“You curtail that opportunity... that's not just for the potential business owner, but it's for the people that might be in that mixed-use development.”
Business owners who work in the natural gas industry, such as heating and fireplace installation, called in to the committee to express concerns regarding their businesses, should the original motion move forward.
In addition, the motion’s impact on cultural cooking practices was brought up by residents who called in to the meeting, and council members.
“I do want us to realize that roughly half the City of Vancouver is of South Asian or Asian descent. We talk about equity, diversity and inclusion, and taking away the ability of individuals in certain cultural groups to perform one of the most basic functions — making their own culturally appropriate foods — to me doesn’t sit very well,” said Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim.
FortisBC highlighted that renewable natural gas (RNG) meets the B.C. energy step code. In addition to RNG, the motion is said to act as a barrier to other low-carbon energy options such as hydrogen, which requires the infrastructure from natural gas for residential use.
“This motion will remove choice and at a cost to Vancouver taxpayers and energy customers. The conversion of building heating systems to electricity will require massive capital investment that this motion does not reference or contemplate,” said Siraz Dalmir, community relations manager with FortisBC, who was the first to speak on the motion during the meeting.
He added that any credible pathway towards net-zero carbon should utilize both electricity and RNG.
“The amended motion that was approved by the City of Vancouver (CoV) requires further analysis to identify its full implications to our customers, businesses and industry in Vancouver. We encourage further engagement from CoV on any proposed changes to the Vancouver building bylaw,” said FortisBC in a statement to Glacier Media.
“Without access to the gas distribution system, residents and businesses would be limited to only one main system for all its energy needs which will deny residents energy choice, increases costs, and erode affordability.”
Ron Rapp, CEO of Homebuilders Association of Vancouver, also expressed concerns about “backing into a single source solution that would not entertain other options.” Full electrification would require additional generation capacity, he said in the committee meeting.
Coun. Carr originally presented the motion in order to forward the city’s zero carbon goals and put in place considerations for health implications from natural gas exposure, she said.
“There was some interest several years ago when we were pursuing this that people like to cook with gas, and so maybe allow that in. However, since then, there's been a lot of work done, including by celebrity chefs, saying it's actually way more enjoyable, and equally, if not more efficient to cook without gas, but using induction stoves,” Carr said in an interview with Glacier Media.
Victoria, Saanich and Burnaby are among the municipalities that have already adopted, or are in the process of adopting, the highest level of the Zero Carbon Step Code, which incentivizes de-carbonization in new builds, the original motion said.