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Almost half of the funding in a federal program Canada has promoted as a boon for electric vehicles is being used for natural gas refueling.
The Trudeau government has funded a nationwide rollout of 102 electric vehicle (EV) chargers, as part of a Natural Resources Canada program called the “Electric Vehicle and Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Deployment Initiative.”
The program has been promoted as fulfilling a commitment to put more zero-emission vehicles on the road. Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna recently touted the program as part of her announcement on new EV chargers across Quebec.
What is less known, is that this program has also funded the installation of seven natural gas refueling stations, and three hydrogen refueling stations.
While there are far fewer natural gas and hydrogen stations than EV chargers, the refueling stations cost much more to install, typically $1 million each, compared to $50,000 for an EV charger — meaning they are sucking up much more program funding per station.
A National Observer analysis shows that, as of Jan. 25, a list of projects being funded under the program for which contribution agreements have been signed showed $6,502,000 had been given out for natural gas refuelling, compared to $7,967,000 for EV charging and hydrogen refueling. This would mean that the government has spent 44.9 per cent of the total program funding on natural gas stations.
High-polluting gasoline and diesel engines dominate Canada’s roads, and transportation accounts for a quarter of Canada’s carbon pollution. Replacing gas-guzzlers with compressed natural gas vehicles could lower emissions, depending on where the gas is sourced from, what fuel sources are being replaced, and the vehicles in question.
Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi's office says switching from diesel to natural gas in medium- and heavy-duty vehicles can reduce emissions by "up to 25 per cent." Compared to gasoline, compressed natural gas emits six to 11 per cent lower levels of carbon pollution over its life cycle, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That figure is also cited by delivery service UPS.
Still, electric vehicle advocates feel slighted that a program they thought was advancing the cause of electrification is also being used to fund transportation options that still produce tailpipe emissions.
“As members of the EV community, it is distressing for us to see money spent on compressed natural gas fuelling that will have little to no impact on Canada's greenhouse gas emissions,” said Matthew Eglin, director of the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa. “This money would have been better spent on expanding the EV charging network across Canada.”
Sohi's office said medium- and heavy-duty vehicles represent one of the fastest-growing emissions profiles, and using natural gas also reduces other forms of emissions such as black carbon, which has a powerful global warming potential. The black carbon would be a by-product of the pollution from large commercial trucks that run on diesel fuel.
"If there are lower carbon fuel options that will make a difference, we need to act," said Alexandre Deslongchamps, Sohi's director of communications.
"We know that the transition to a low-carbon economy cannot happen overnight. Canada's climate plan was built with Canadians, and is a serious, practical and affordable approach to tackle climate change. We will continue to take action to ensure Canadians across the country have good jobs, a growing economy and a healthy environment."
McKenna’s press secretary Sabrina Kim declined comment, saying Sohi's office was best suited for a response, as the funding was from an NRCan program.
Renewable natural gas to be used at London, Ont. station
Sohi's office also pointed to the introduction of renewable natural gas produced from landfills, farms or other places with organic waste, as a way to further lower emissions.
The department's funding for natural gas refueling is being praised by energy companies and local politicians who are excited about renewable gas, which is chemically similar to natural gas and can be collected, cleaned, put into pipelines and used the same way as homes and businesses use gas now.
NRCan, which has invested in the technology, says renewable gas from a sustainable source could emit up to 85 per cent less pollution than fossil fuels. It is already being deployed along the Highway 401 corridor in Ontario.
In December, an affiliate of Enbridge, Union Energy Solutions, and an industry partner revealed how $3 million in federal funding from the NRCan program “was a critical resource in recognizing the important role that natural gas offerings play in providing affordable emission reduction choices for our country.”
The industry partner, California-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp., designed and built three compressed natural gas stations in Ontario near Windsor, London and Napanee. The firm says its renewable gas, branded as Redeem, has “up to 70 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas versus diesel and gasoline.”
The London station will use renewable natural gas sourced from nearby biogas facility StormFisher Environmental, the two companies said. StormFisher says its 2.85 MW biogas facility, which converts 100,000 tonnes of organic waste a year into renewable energy and fertilizer, avoids enough pollution equivalent to taking 7,500 cars off the road.
A local Liberal MP, Peter Fragiskatos, who is the Member of Parliament for London North Centre, was quoted in the Union Energy / Clean Energy Fuels press release as stating that “these stations provide transport companies with cleaner options to move their goods — cutting costs, reducing pollution and improving productivity.”
The Ontario government of Premier Doug Ford is also backing the project: Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman was quoted in the same press release, stating that he was “proud” his ministry was part of the project, and that it was an “investment in our future.”
In addition to the three natural gas stations funded to the tune of $1 million each, a fourth station in Ontario near Fort Erie, built by Enbridge itself, was given $502,000. Three more natural gas stations were funded in Laval, Lévis and Trois Rivières, Quebec for $1 million each, being built by EBI Énergie.
Meanwhile, the 102 electric vehicle charging stations that are being funded by the program are spread out across the country in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.