City Hall rushes to clarify stance on natural gas, transition to renewable energy

Gregor RobertsonThe past couple days there has been somewhat of a media storm in response to an opinion piece by Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (“Taxpayers Will Shoulder Burden Of Vancouver Natural-Gas Ban,” The Province, 21-Sep-2016).

Excerpt: Lost in the hubbub over housing prices in the Lower Mainland this summer was the Vision-dominated city council rubber stamping its Renewable City Strategy, committing Vancouver to eliminating natural gas within city limits by 2050. Robertson wants a 70-per-cent cut in natural gas use by 2020, and 90 per cent gone within 10 years on new construction or renovations requiring a building permit. This will cost individual residents thousands of dollars — and was approved by Robertson and his council without any thought to the affordability crisis in Vancouver...
(Jordan Bateman, Canadian Taxpayers Federation)

Below we provide verbatim an information bulletin issued in response this morning (23-Sept) by the Corporate Communications office at City Hall, and at the bottom we provide a selection of other media coverage and related links. It seems the City could have done a better job of communicating the information initially, and that it is still a complicated story.

*************

Clarification of City’s position on natural gas: Long-term plans call for transition to more renewable energy forms, zero emissions buildings
(Information Bulletin from City Of Vancouver Corporate Communications, 23-Sept-2016)

The City of Vancouver is not banning the use of natural gas, despite claims to the contrary in a misinformed opinion piece in The Province newspaper.

Earlier this year, Vancouver City Council adopted the Zero Emissions Building Plan – an action plan that lays out a phased approach to combat and reduce carbon pollution in Vancouver. The plan establishes specific targets and actions to achieve zero emissions in all new buildings by 2030 i.e. the plan does not focus on retro-fitting buildings. Restaurants can continue to cook with natural gas and residents are not being asked to replace their gas appliances.

[CityHallWatch note: “Earlier this year” apparently refers to the July 12 and 13, 2016, Council meetings. Click here for council agenda, policy report, staff presentation and video on “Zero Emissions Building Plan” on the 12th, and click here to see  video of speakers, Council discussion, and vote on the 13th. Seven citizens spoke in favour, none against. See text of revised adopted motion, adopted unanimously by Council, at bottom.]

The Zero Emissions Building Plan is a product of Vancouver’s Renewable City Strategy (RCS), committing Vancouver to derive 100 per cent of its energy from renewable sources before 2050. Vancouver is one of many cities worldwide that have adopted 100 per cent renewable policy strategies to combat climate change.

The three core strategies in the Renewable City Strategy (approved by unanimous City Council vote in Fall 2015) include:
1. Reduce energy use through energy conservation and efficiency programs.
2. Increase the use of renewable energy (for example biomethane – renewable natural gas). The City of Vancouver powers City Hall with green gas we purchase from FortisBC.
3. Increase the supply of renewable energy and support that with new infrastructure.

[CityHallWatch note: See Regular Council November 3, 2015 for the “Renewable City Strategy” adopted.]

Fifty-eight per cent of the energy used in buildings (heat, hot water) comes from natural gas use (with the remainder from electricity); because electricity is green energy, natural gas is responsible for 96 per cent of a typical building’s greenhouse gas emissions. The phased approach laid out in the Zero Emissions Building Plan aims to reduce emissions from newly permitted buildings by 70 per cent by 2020, 90 per cent by 2025 and 100% by 2030.

[CityHallWatch note: A major assumption appears to be that all “electricity is green energy,” but that merits further discussion. For example opponents of the Site C dam would probably disagree with that claim.]

In addition to helping to combat climate change, these new building standards will also result in better quality homes that are quieter, healthier, and easier to operate and maintain.

The Zero Emissions Building Plan was brought forward after extensive consultation with designers, builders, developers, building operators and utilities. Consultation will continue as components of the plan are implemented. Stakeholders consulted (see Report to Council) included:

  • · BC Hydro (co-funded research and consultation)
  • · FortisBC
  • · Creative Energy
  • · River District Energy
  • · Urban Development Institute (collaborated on establishing scope of research work and supported industry consultation to ensure representative voices from the designers, developers, builders, and suppliers for multi-unit residential buildings)
  • · Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association
  • · BC Ministry Responsible for Housing, Building and Safety Standards Branch
  • · BC Ministry of Energy and Mines, Electricity and Alternative Energy Division
  • · Staff from the cities of Richmond, New Westminster, and Surrey
  • · BC Housing and the Homeowners Protection Office
  • · International Building Performance Simulation Association – BC Chapter
  • · Fenestration Association of BC
  • · New Buildings Institute (one of the leading U.S. building energy code think tanks)
  • · Pembina Institute
  • · Canadian Passive House Institute

As a result of City of Vancouver green building policies there have already been significant cost savings for Vancouver residents and businesses due to less energy use in buildings. The City estimates that, relative to our 2007 baseline, Vancouver’s businesses and residents save $44 million annually in building energy costs thanks to decreasing energy use and reduced buildings emissions.

For more information about the Renewable City Strategy, visit vancouver.ca/renewable-city.

************

FINAL MOTION on Zero Emissions Building Plan AS ADOPTED (From minutes of Standing Committee of Council on City Finance and Services, July 13, 2016)

THAT the Committee recommend to Council
A. THAT Council approve the Zero Emissions Building Plan (attached as Appendix A
of the Policy Report dated July 5, 2016, entitled “Zero Emissions Building
Plan”), and adopt a target to reduce emissions from new buildings by 90% as
compared to 2007 by 2025 and to achieve zero emissions for all new buildings
by 2030 including intermediary time-stepped GHG emission and thermal energy
demand targets as described in the Plan.
B. THAT Council direct staff to report back with specific recommendations to
reflect the first step of these limits in the Rezoning Policy for Green Buildings
and Vancouver’s Building Bylaw along with any synergistic updates to
Neighbourhood Energy connection requirements by Q1 2017.
C. THAT Council direct staff to build all new City-owned and Vancouver Affordable
Housing Agency (VAHA) projects to be Certified to the Passive House standard
or alternate zero emission building standard, and use only low carbon fuel
sources, in lieu of certifying to LEED Gold unless it is deemed unviable by Real
Estate and Facilities Management, or VAHA respectively, in collaboration with
Sustainability and report back with recommendations for a Zero Emissions
Policy for New Buildings for all City-owned and VAHA building projects by 2018.
D. THAT Council direct staff, in consultation with industry, to develop a three
year, $1.625 million Zero Emissions Home Program for detached and row houses
($325K in 2017 from the Climate Action Rebate Incentive Program Reserve,
$650K in 2018 and $650K in 2019 from a funding source to be determined and
reported back to Council), and report back to Council with specific
recommendations for tools to catalyze leading builders to demonstrate cost
effective approaches to building zero emissions homes by 2017
E. THAT Council direct staff to engage partners, consult with stakeholders, and
report back with recommendations in 2017 on the resources and tools required
to catalyze leading developers to demonstrate cost effective approaches to
building zero emissions multi-unit residential and commercial buildings;
FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to meet with the National Research Council
(NRC) as soon as possible, prior to enacting F below, in order to access the
impartial and world-renowned expertise in building science and technology
that is offered by the NRC;
AND FURTHER THAT the City work with the NRC to achieve the City’s goals in
lowered GHG emissions and to provide the best building technologies
appropriate for the needs of Vancouver’s citizens.
F. THAT Council approves in principle $700,000 over three years ($300K in 2017,
$200K in 2018, and $200K in 2019 from the City’s 2017 Innovation Fund, subject
to Council approval of the 2017 Innovation Fund budget) towards establishing a
non-governmental Zero Emissions Building Centre of Excellence with the
mission to facilitate the compilation and dissemination of the knowledge and
skills required to design, permit, build and operate zero emission buildings in
BC, and direct staff to engage partners, secure matching funding, consult with
stakeholders and report back with recommendations for implementation in
2017.
G. THAT Council direct staff to review and recommend amendments to the City’s
bylaws, policies, and guidelines to incorporate “zero emission building related
rules” including but not limited to Official Development Plans, the Zoning and
Development By-law, Vancouver’s Building Bylaw, the Subdivision by-law and all
other applicable bylaws, policies and guidelines to remove barriers and
facilitate the development of zero emission buildings and provide them with
equal weight as other public policy objectives wherever such “zero emission
building related rules” confer discretion to a City official or board, and report
back with initial recommendations in 2017.
H. THAT Council direct staff to develop and report back in the fall of 2016 on a
plan, including educational demonstration projects in city-owned buildings, to
increase the generation and use of renewable energy such as solar.
I. THAT Council direct staff to report on the projected life cycle costs that will
result from adoption of the Zero Emissions Building Plan, any related policies,
and all future carbon reduction measures proposed by staff.

***************

RELATED LINKS AND MEDIA

City of Vancouver clarifies its position on natural gas in new buildings
Reports of an all-out ban on natural gas are unfounded, says city manager Sadhu Johnson (CBC, 22-Sept-2016)
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/vancouver-natural-gas-ban-2050-1.3775085

The story above is recommended – a clarification of several facts – and it seems to go much further than the statement issued by the City on September 23.

http://www.cknw.com/2016/09/22/vancouver-commits-to-ban-non-renewable-natural-gas/

http://www.news1130.com/2016/09/23/vancouver-plans-to-ban-the-use-of-natural-gas-by-2050/

http://www.cknw.com/2016/09/22/vancouver-commits-to-ban-natural-gas/

http://www.am730.ca/syn/112/223487/vancouver-commits-to-ban-natural-gas

http://theprovince.com/opinion/jordan-bateman-vision-vancouvers-natural-gas-ban-will-cost-residents-thousands-of-dollars

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jordan-bateman/vancouver-natural-gas-ban_b_12130040.html

http://www.news1130.com/2016/09/23/vancouver-plans-to-ban-the-use-of-natural-gas-by-2050/

http://bc.ctvnews.ca/vancouver-s-plan-to-eliminate-natural-gas-goes-too-far-critics-say-1.3084907

http://www.dawsoncreekmirror.ca/business/fort-st-john-mayor-critical-of-vancouver-natural-gas-phase-out-1.2349508

22 thoughts on “City Hall rushes to clarify stance on natural gas, transition to renewable energy

  1. I’m not seeing any information that clarifies if the city plans to ban natural gas or not. If you want to build a new house, can you have a gas line for your stove? Gas fireplace? Can a new build restaurant have gas stoves? All we know is that we won’t have to tear out what we have, but nothing about what the rules will be going forward for new builds, so what is it?

  2. The city is not going to ban anything. Going through the 116 pages of the July 5, 2016 Zero Emissions Building Plan that was presented to council (you can find it as a web cache), or the Vancouver Renewable 2050 (only 60 pages), it’s clear that the increasing regulations that staff are being directed to enforce will guarantee that natural gas fixtures or supplies will not be, either, allowed or financially viable.

    The objective is achieved the same as a ban, it’s just that it will be done with increasing squeeze put on builders and renovators. There will also be an increasing move to district energy, which the city controls. So that energy will be from what they decide.

    There are already many Green requirements for all new and all renovations, including residential and commercial. This includes energy audits, LED lighting, auto switches, etc., etc. With increasing building and demolitions and then new construction, this will mean a substantial building stock is replaced by 2050, with the GHG requirements the city demands.

    The new buildings are going to be tight and they are not going to be cheap. Green is job 1.

    • Thanks, Eric. We hope there is more public analysis and discussion about all aspects of these policies — as they were not done before Council adopted them. One question though, it seems the City intends to relinquish control of district heating mostly to ONE company – Creative Energy, owned by developer and political donor Ian Gillespie of Westbank. That aspect too needs a lot more attention.

      • I like what Gillespie has built. Nevertheless, the way the city operates is exactly the same as any cartel. It’s all insiders. Whether or not the citizens are receiving fair value is another thing.

        Another area that has exploded is the garbage, composting and recycling. Were these all properly tendered? At least one facility in Richmond stinks. When the prevailing winds are from the east, traveling along the area near the Massey tunnel one is assaulted with the nauseous gas poo. Hundreds of complaints. All US private investor company receiving grants from Ottawa and contract from Metro, with Greg Moore doing PR gigs in their facility.

    • I’m still unclear and I wonder why the information from the city is so opaque. From what you read, will a new house always be allowed to have a gas line and gas appliances? New restaurants? I’m unclear what you mean by “…will guarantee that natural gas fixtures or supplies will not be, either, allowed or financially viable.”. Can you please clarify? Thanks.

      Interesting you make the point about so many demolitions. Wouldn’t the city be better placed to focus on discouraging demotions in order to reduce landfill and emissions? The rate of demolition of perfectly good, and even heritage homes, is crazy.

  3. One other thing to consider as regards a ban, or no ban, on natural gas. Addressing climate change is vital, but the emission levels from the CoV is very, very tiny on a global scale. Within that, the emissions from natural gas is even less, so in terms of addressing climate change, ban or no ban, it will have as good as no impact whatsoever on what happens to our planet.

  4. It’s like saying we’re not going to ban campfires but we will be banning wood smoke.
    I’ve just copied and pasted bits here. The ambitious plan that outgoing planner Brian Jackson mentioned about becomes clearer.

    In the first document it starts:

    RECOMMENDATION
    A. THAT Council approve the Zero Emissions Building Plan (attached as Appendix
    A) and adopt a target to reduce emissions from new buildings by 90% as
    compared to 2007 by 2025 and to achieve zero emissions for all new buildings
    by 2030 …

    REPORT SUMMARY
    This Plan lays out four action strategies to require the majority of new buildings in
    Vancouver use 100% renewable energy and have no operational greenhouse gas
    emissions by 2025 and that all new buildings achieve these outcomes by 2030.
    These four strategies include:
    1. Limits: establish GHG and thermal energy limits by building type and step these
    down over time to zero

    In November 2015, Council approved the Renewable City Strategy (RCS), detailing how
    Vancouver will achieve the target of 100% renewable energy use by 2050 and directed
    staff to bring forward recommendations for achieving zero emissions new buildings by
    2030 and where possible, sooner.

    This Strategy targets 100% of all energy used in Vancouver come from renewable sources by 2050.

    • 30% would be built prior to 2010
    • 30% would be built between 2010 and 2020
    • 40% would be built after 2020.

    • Utilizing rezoning policy tools to lead the transition
    • Establishing and enforcing GHG intensity limits for new development
    • Mandating energy use reporting

    This is a Plan to fundamentally shift building practice in Vancouver in just under 10
    years. It focuses building policy, catalyst tools, and an investment in capacity building
    on high performing building envelopes and transitioning to100% renewable energy for
    new buildings.

    The Plan was also shaped and informed by ongoing discussions with the cities of New
    York and Brussels, whose involvement was made possible through a grant from the
    Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance (part of the Global Philanthropy Partnership, Chicago).

    1) First Path – Reduce Focused: where Neighbourhood Renewable Energy
    connections are not available, policy will initially focus on significant reductions in
    space heating and fresh air heating demand through greatly improved building
    envelope performance and highly efficient “passive” heat recovery ventilation.
    Once envelopes have improved significantly, requirements for renewable energy
    for hot water heating will be introduced in later years.

    The Plan includes four essential areas of action:
    1. Limits: establish GHG and thermal energy limits by building type and step
    these down over time to zero.

    In summary:
    • Detached Houses: Vancouver’s 2014 Building Bylaw introduced aggressive new
    energy efficiency measures and emissions in these buildings have been
    reduced by 48% since 2007. Aside from establishing a cap on maximum
    allowed GHG emissions (effectively requiring large new houses to be more
    efficient than modestly sized ones) no significant new regulations will be
    imposed until 2020 and the immediate focus will be on the provision of
    catalyst tools and capacity building for early adopters of zero emission
    building approaches.
    • Low-Rise Multi-Unit Residential Buildings (4-6 story MURBs): These buildings
    have not had significant new requirements imposed recently and provide an
    ideal form for Passive House levels of performance. Proposed amendments to the Building Bylaw and the Rezoning Policy for this form of development in
    2016 will reduce emissions from this building type by nearly 50%, primarily by
    aligning insulation, window and ventilation system performance requirements
    with those for detached housing. The Plan targets 2020 updates to the
    Rezoning Policy to require Passive House performance for this form of
    development, thus emphasizing the immediate importance of catalyst tools
    and capacity building for early adopters of zero emission building approaches.
    • High-Rise Multi-Unit Residential Buildings (MURBs): This Plan recommends
    establishing a GHGI limit in 2016 that would result in 64% lower emissions as
    compared to current rezoning policy outcomes (for buildings not connected to
    a renewable neighbourhood energy system). The incremental costs of
    improved envelope and ventilation systems will be offset by the savings from
    not being required to build a hydronic heated building.

    The City currently uses voluntary commitments from developers
    applying for rezoning to
    gradually drive improved
    green building outcomes.
    In general, GHGI and TEDI
    limits that will be
    required in the Rezoning
    Policy will be reflected in
    the Building Bylaw five
    years later. By aligning
    the limits for rezoning
    with the limits that will
    be required of all new
    construction within 5
    years, the Rezoning Policy
    can help the industry
    evolve from one bylaw
    step to the next, and will
    provide demonstration
    projects for the building
    technologies and
    techniques that will soon be required by the Bylaw. This approach is
    often called a ‘stretch code’ or ‘reach code’. It has been used
    effectively by the City of Toronto Green Standard and the Ontario
    Building Code since 2006 to provide clarity and predictability to industry
    on upcoming energy code changes.

    In order to achieve zero emissions in new buildings by 2025 (or in some
    cases 2030), any portion of non-renewable energy in grid provided
    electricity will be required to be offset by the installation of an on-site
    renewable energy system such as photovoltaic solar panels. In the case
    of high-rise buildings with relatively small roof areas compared to the
    overall building size, the small portion of non-renewable energy in
    electricity will be allowed to be offset via a community-scale renewable
    power system.

    GHG and Energy Targets – Detached Housing

    One minor improvement will be setting a maximum allowed total GHG
    emission impact for new detached homes. The maximum allowed limit
    will be based on the average carbon footprint of a new home in
    Vancouver. Effectively, this will require larger than average homes to
    pursue greater energy efficiency or the use of additional renewable
    energy technologies sooner than the rest of the market. All grid
    connected space heating, domestic hot water heating, fireplaces
    (indoor and outdoor) and outdoor heating would be considered in
    setting the average.

    This Plan proposes immediate updates to the
    Building Bylaw targeting a reduction of nearly 50% in GHG emissions for
    new low-rise residential development and establishes the target for all
    low-rise MURB developments that are rezoned as of 2020 to achieve
    Passive House performance.

    While the
    City is working with the
    Province and other
    interested local
    governments to develop
    energy benchmarking
    reporting regulation for all
    large existing buildings, updates to the rezoning policy will require
    energy metering of each major building system for new buildings, a
    benchmarking service contract is in place to ensure this data is
    compiled post-occupancy, and that a covenant on the property requires
    the owner to release non-personal data to the City …etc.

  5. So, above it says,

    “Effectively, this will require larger than average homes to
    pursue greater energy efficiency or the use of additional renewable
    energy technologies sooner than the rest of the market. All grid
    connected space heating, domestic hot water heating, fireplaces
    (indoor and outdoor) and outdoor heating would be considered in
    setting the average.”

    This is still kind of vague, but suggests that gas will not be banned, but will need to be offset by other efficiencies. We don’t know what that will mean and if it will thus be realistic to imagine that it will be at all possible to have gas appliances in your new home. I wish it was clearer.

  6. Maybe. It all depends on the bylaws and regulations that staff contrive to satisfy the directives from council.

    You will have to have an energy audit and you will have to report energy usage. Maybe gas BBQs will be verboten. Big brother will be there to save the planet.

  7. Got a useless response which is a form letter and ignores my specific question about new buildings and new restaurants and whether natural gas will ever be banned from them. The response is below. I wrote back to ask again.

    BELOW IS FROM CITY OF VANCOUVER
    Thank you for taking the time to reach out to Mayor Robertson and for sharing your concerns with us.

    To clarify, the City is not banning natural gas. Restaurants can continue to cook with natural gas, and residents can continue to use their natural gas fireplaces. We’re not asking anyone to give up their usual way of living or doing business.

    What the Renewable City Strategy does is outline a long term plan for moving Vancouver towards a sustainable future where we use 100% renewable energy, including natural gas from renewable sources. In Vancouver, we produce renewable natural gas by capturing it from organics waste, dairy farms, and landfill gas. Vancouver City Hall is already powered with renewable natural gas purchased from Fortis’s renewable natural gas program, demonstrating that the transition to 100% renewable energy is realistic and achievable.

    The transition to 100% renewable energy will be done in combination with more energy efficient buildings, reducing our climate pollution and greenhouse gases. The City knows that affordability is a major concern for many residents – but renewable energy and energy efficiency do not mean higher costs. In fact, Vancouver homes and businesses already save $44 million per year from our energy efficient building policies.

    Rather than making sudden moves, we are working to gradually increase the amount of renewable energy in Vancouver, and to make our buildings more energy efficient over time. The alternative path of continuing to wreck the planet is not an option, and we refuse to sit on the sidelines in the fight against climate change.

    Please let us know if you have any questions.

    Sincerely,
    Vancouver Mayor’s Office Team

    • Robotboy44, thanks for your work on this. You and other readers may find this fresh column in Vancouver Courier by Mike Klassen to be worth a read. He brings in various angles to shine more light on the gas subject.
      Vancouver’s (natural) gas pains, by Mike Klassen / Vancouver Courier, September 28, 2016
      http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/vancouver-s-natural-gas-pains-1.2353824
      Excerpt: “There is no ban!” insisted city manager Sadhu Johnston, repeating the points laid out in a mayor’s office communiqué. But in truth, city council has used its power to enact bylaws that will not only end the use of affordable, efficient, and locally-sourced natural gas to heat our homes and hot water, some see it as a path where only the “super rich” can afford to live in Vancouver.
      ***********
      We are happy to keep this topic going. Once we have enough material, could do a new compilation post on CityHallWatch.

  8. Got another response from C of V, again, just ignoring my specific question. Here is what they said:

    “Appliances such as gas stoves and BBQs are not impacted by the City’s actions, and homes and restaurants will be able to use gas for cooking.

    The City’s primary focus is natural gas use for heating and hot water, as natural gas is responsible for 96% of a typical building’s greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier this year, City Council adopted the Zero Emissions Building Plan which lays out a phased approach to achieve zero emissions in all new residential and office buildings by 2030. The emphasis in this plan is to reduce heating energy demand and to transition heating systems in new buildings to renewable energy – including electricity, renewable natural gas, and waste heat.

    The Zero Emissions Building Plan does not impact existing homes and buildings, which will continue to be able to use gas boilers for the foreseeable future. A retro-fitting plan for existing buildings will be created in the future as part of the Renewable City Strategy.

    We hope that answers your questions. We would also be happy to connect you with City staff who could answer detailed questions about the plan.”

    So I wrote back and laid out the questions as clearly as I could. I want to know if new builds or renovations will ever be restricted from installing natural gas for cooking or heat. Clearly there is a real reluctance to clarify. I wonder why.

    • Perhaps the answer cannot be categorical because future permits will be based on total GHG emissions, as well as some future points system for perceived fossil fuels. Perhaps punitive revenue will be derived if someone particularly wants gas. Further, city staff will be designing regulations to comply with directives as they are delivered by council.

      It reminds me of Air Care, which was a good way of getting belching old clunkers off the roads. They just could not pass the tests. But, the idea that natural gas is to become verboten, when it’s so cheap and has a relatively mild pollution quotient, is all a bit ridiculous and solely based on and extreme ideological indulgence.

      • “ridiculous and solely based on and extreme ideological indulgence.” Well said. In any case, if what you suggest is true, it would be good for the city to confirm that, or to indicate more clearly their plan, which they feel we have all misunderstood. It might be because of the lack of clarity.

  9. My long reading of city plans confirms what the city is accused of, ergo; banning natural gas – gradually. A slow squeeze. I wouldn’t not expect any more from them. The story will not get any more traction, for now.

    The Zero Emissions Building Plan: 2016 Jul 12 is quite a read.

    It will be interesting to see if anyone articulates this in the next municipal election.

  10. Still no response from the city to confirm. I have to assume at this point that they truly do not wish to answer because, as you say, they know the answer is that they will be banning natural gas.

  11. On Van Poli’s Facebook page Christopher R. Shackleton discusses the court ruling just won by the CoV. It confirms what I wrote before.

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