As Enbridge attempts to persuade the Ontario Energy Board it should be allowed to invest billions to expand the gas grid and lock in customers, a complaint filed with Competition Bureau Canada alleges the fossil fuel giant is using “deceptive marketing” to get its way.
The complaint filed by Environmental Defence, Ontario Clean Air Alliance, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and a group of Ontario residents accuses Enbridge of falsely claiming gas is the most cost-effective way to heat homes. Enbridge has made this claim online and in communities it has pegged for expansion in an attempt to increase its customer base.
In a letter sent to residents of Scugog Island, a First Nation community in Ontario where Enbridge sought to expand service in 2021, the company said, “When compared to using electricity, propane, or oil, switching to natural gas could save you up to 52 per cent per year” and that gas is “the most affordable way to run appliances.” Enbridge made similar claims to residents of North Bay, the Saugeen First Nation, Fenelon Falls and others.
These claims are not true, the complaint argues.
“For a long time, methane gas was the cheapest way to heat homes. However, electric cold climate heat pumps are now much cheaper than gas for consumers,” the complaint reads, citing evidence filed with the provincial energy regulator. “Annual costs are lower because heat pumps are approximately three times more efficient than gas furnaces … and because customers can avoid paying monthly charges to Enbridge for use of its gas system.”
Specifically, customers in the communities Enbridge is expanding into could expect to save $20,000 by switching to heat pumps instead of signing up with Enbridge.
“Enbridge’s dishonest marketing is duping people into signing up for its gas service, falsely claiming it’s cheaper than heating with electricity, which is just not true,” said Environmental Defence program director Keith Brooks in a statement. "Heat pumps have come a long way in recent years and they are now the most affordable way to heat a home, and are far superior from an environmental perspective.
“Enbridge needs to stop lying to people and pushing its fossil gas agenda on communities.”
Enbridge spokesperson Andrea Stass said the costs of switching to high-efficiency heat pumps vary depending on the home, and said “a simple comparison of the technology costs alone can be misleading.”
“Enbridge needs to stop lying to people and pushing its fossil gas agenda on communities.” #onpoli #CompetitionBureau
“In addition to the cost of the heat pump, a home may also require electrical panel upgrades, exterior service upgrades from the electric utility, internal wiring upgrades, duct work improvements and more,” she said. “Based on our analysis, conversion to a high-efficiency electric cold climate air source heat pump configuration could be more cost-effective for space heating in some situations when compared to a conversion to a natural gas furnace configuration, whereas, in others, a natural gas solution would be more cost-effective.”
The complaint also accuses Enbridge of misleading customers on its climate credentials by suggesting natural gas is a low-carbon way to heat homes. In marketing material, Enbridge has claimed gas is “part of a clean energy future” that “can help reduce your home’s carbon footprint.”
Those claims may be true if the customer were switching from propane or oil heating, but would not be true if switching from electricity to gas. Moreover, suggesting gas hookups are part of a clean energy future ignores that natural gas is mostly methane — a potent greenhouse gas that traps 86 per cent more heat in the atmosphere over 20 years than carbon dioxide, making it a critically important gas to curb if the goal is to limit global warming.
“I am outraged by Enbridge's campaign filled with misleading information about the cost and environmental impact of its polluting product,” said Guy Hanchet, a resident of Selwyn, where Enbridge is expanding, in a statement. “Its proposed new pipeline in Selwyn Township will deliver harmful fossil gas to our residents who will be locked in to higher prices for decades.”
Throughout this year, Enbridge has been battling critics at the Ontario Energy Board as it applies for a rate increase to pay for its multibillion-dollar gas expansion plans. Evidence filed with the regulator has described the risk of a “death spiral” for Enbridge, where customers increasingly leave the gas grid in favour of cleaner, cheaper alternatives. That would leave fewer customers to pay for the gas infrastructure and require Enbridge to increase rates for the shrinking base of customers to cover its costs, effectively pushing even more customers away in a vicious cycle. That risk is one of the reasons Enbridge is focused on adding customers.
A key piece of evidence Enbridge has relied on in its pitch to the regulator and the public compared two pathways of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. One scenario involved electrification, the other included further gas investments and the study erroneously inflated the cost of switching from gas to electricity to heat buildings by $140 billion.
The study was ordered to be updated, with Enbridge still defending the study. “While the cost gap between the two scenarios has decreased, the overall findings of the study remain unchanged,” a spokesperson previously told Canada’s National Observer.