Methane and Renewables



submitted by Steve Gabell

Many people will have recently experienced a nasty surprise thanks to their Enbridge bills for methane (aka “natural gas”) being significantly higher than in previous years. In some cases, bills have more than doubled. The war in Ukraine has had an effect on the cost of methane and other fossil fuels. While Russia’s invasion may not have been predictable, an extractive industry limited to a relatively small number of sites is always going to be vulnerable to external events disrupting supplies. 

Yet rather than working to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, our Progressive Conservative provincial government is working to make us more dependent on them. In 2021, they announced an expansion of methane connections for a number of communities across the province where people are currently reliant on heating oil or propane, including parts of Merrickville. This expansion comes at an eye-watering financial cost – $2.46 million for 67 homes and businesses in Merrickville alone, or over $36,000 for each connection, not including costs property owners will incur with the need for new furnaces or ducting. 

Doug Ford is also working to increase dependence on fossil fuels across the province for generating electricity. Not content with recklessly cancelling hundreds of renewable energy contracts and successful energy efficiency programs, he is planning on ramping up expensive and polluting methane power plants. 

Even if we ignore the environmental impact of increasing methane use, it simply does not make sense from a financial perspective to invest in expensive energy sources when there are far cheaper alternatives available. Expanding use of methane for heating and electricity generation not only has significant capital costs, it also has ongoing running costs that are vulnerable to the whims of global markets and to world events. 

There is a different path open to us. One that would reduce our energy costs over both the short term and the long term, one that would reduce our vulnerability to extreme weather, market forces and global events. Renewable energy offers near zero marginal cost energy, which can be generated in virtually any location. Even RBC, a major funder of fossil fuel projects, report that wind or solar projects are significantly cheaper than methane, at US$40 per MWh compared to US$60 per MWh, and a report from Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator stated that Ontario can avoid the need for new methane plants and lower its electricity costs by up to $290 billion by investing in zero-carbon options. 

Countries around the world are in a race to decarbonize their economies, creating new industries and economic opportunities in the process. As Mike Schreiner, Ontario Greens leader and Guelph MPP says, “Low-cost renewable energy projects and ambitious efficiency programs will drive progress on climate and help people and business save money by saving energy. A clean grid will attract new industries, create tens of thousand of jobs and give Ontario a strong foothold in the booming climate economy.” 


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