Doug Ford’s government is pledging to reverse an Ontario Energy Board decision that would disincentivize the use of gas in new housing developments.

Less than 24 hours after the decision was published, Energy Minister Todd Smith said he would pause the board’s decision and introduce legislation to reverse it at the “at the earliest opportunity.”

On Thursday, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) found Enbridge’s plan for a multibillion-dollar gas grid expansion “is not responsive to the energy transition and increases the risk of stranded or underutilized assets.” The decision states Enbridge Gas relied on the unreasonable assumption that despite the energy transition and shift to electrification, virtually all new homes would connect to the gas system and those new customers would remain connected to the gas system for at least 40 years.

To ensure customers aren’t saddled with the cost of an expensive stranded asset, the OEB decision said going forward that gas connections must be paid for immediately (projects under a provincial expansion program are exempt) rather than over 40 years through gas rates collected from residents. The OEB eliminated a gas hookup subsidy so developers will have to pay roughly $4,400 upfront to connect a new home to the gas grid. Or they could install electric heat pumps, which the OEB said would be “a win for homebuyers” and developers because it would keep their builds cost-competitive.

Smith said the decision “would slow or halt the construction of new homes, including affordable housing,” adding: “We will not stand for this.”

The OEB decision was in response to Enbridge’s application to increase gas rates for customers to pay for a planned multibillion-dollar gas network expansion.

“What the regulator is saying here is, ‘What you are proposing to do is very risky and we aren't going to let you shove those costs off onto consumers in the future,’” said Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada. “‘You either pay it right now or go another way.’ They're sending a message to Enbridge that you can't just continue with business as usual.”

Similarly, the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) rejected FortisBC Energy’s application to build 30 kilometres of new gas pipelines in the Okanagan. FortisBC’s application for the project — which would cost an estimated $327 million — did not consider the possibility that demand for natural gas in the Okanagan region could flatten or decrease over the next 20 years as a result of the energy transition and the province’s climate plan, according to BCUC’s announcement on Dec. 22.

Environmental groups celebrated the OEB’s decision and dumped on the Ford government's pledge to overturn it as “a very expensive Christmas present” to Enbridge.

Doug Ford's early Christmas present to Enbridge is a pledge to overturn the OEB's decision that the gas company's expansion plan is too risky for ratepayers to bear the cost so new gas connections must be paid for upfront by developers. #onpoli

Environmental Defence called Smith’s assertion that the changes would impede construction of new homes false. Developers currently install gas pipes because the subsidy covers the cost. Without that subsidy, it will be cheaper to install electric heat pumps and developers will be more likely to do so, said Environmental Defence programs director Keith Brooks. Greenpeace Canada and Environmental Defence were among the many intervenors speaking against Enbridge’s proposal at the rake hike hearings.

The OEB’s orders aim to protect Enbridge’s customers from the risk of a potential “death spiral” where Enbridge ends up increasing gas rates to cover the cost of stranded assets, people leave the gas system because those rate hikes make it too expensive, remaining customers are then subject to even stepper increases and the cycle continues.

Enbridge will “consider any and all avenues to challenge the order” after conducting a thorough review of the 147-page decision, Leanne McNaughton, an Enbridge spokesperson, told Canada’s National Observer in an emailed statement. Those avenues could include “a motion for review at the OEB or an appeal to the courts,” she said.

McNaughton said the OEB’s decision adds unnecessary costs to residents now that new customers will have to pay for their connection to the gas network immediately rather than over several years. In a majority of cases, developers would be the ones paying for the gas connection, not ratepayers. Subdivisions account for approximately 80 per cent of connections, and the choice to connect to gas is largely made by developers, the decision noted.

Enbridge applauded Smith’s announcement and said the OEB's decision “will significantly impact energy affordability and our capacity to invest in Ontario's expanding energy infrastructure system.”

She said it also undermines the Ontario government's efforts “to bring affordable and sustainable natural gas to all Ontarians,” adding that “northern and remote communities, Indigenous communities, industry and new development communities … will face significant challenges to energy security and affordability without fair access to natural gas infrastructure in Ontario.”

A group of environmental organizations and concerned Ontario residents filed a complaint with the Competition Bureau that accuses Enbridge of falsely claiming gas is the most cost-effective way to heat homes as part of its campaign to expand the gas grid. The complaint takes aim at claims made in a handful of Ontario communities, including that “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.” Their complaint included analysis showing that 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.

“The Ontario Energy Board is recognizing that the energy transition is real and they're trying to protect consumers from bad decisions by gas companies,” said Stewart, calling the decision an “existential threat” to Enbridge.

“The Ford government is siding with property developers and gas companies to leave you and me on the hook for the cost and to continue pretending that climate change isn't gonna force us to change business as usual.”

Smith’s pledge to reverse the board’s decision “has given Enbridge Gas a very expensive Christmas present, but it is the rest of us who will be footing the bill,” he added.

— With files from John Woodside

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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Doug Ford only cares about his corrupt developer buddies.

Yes, and sure as heck will do so at the expense of the environment, every single time.
Welcome Ontario to the world of Conservative politics.
Are you so naive as to think Poilievre would be the least bit different?

Beyond what everyone else knows about the need to reduce emissions and keep the cost of home ownership reasonable, the government's announcement is yet more proof of its dis-interest in finalizing its own Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan, which states in part "Work with the Ontario Energy Board and natural gas utilities to increase the cost-effective conservation of natural gas to simultaneously reduce emissions and lower energy bills."

No, probably what they mean by that is they want to reduce leaks . . . NOT to keep methane out of the atmosphere, just because leaked gas is gas that isn't reaching customers and being paid for, so if the government pays to stop the leaks the company actually makes more profit.

We all are aware that as the natural gas utility starts to lose customers the price per cubic meter will increase along with the delivery fee that is nothing less than pure profit. It is the same with hydro the cost per kilowatt hour has increase along with the delivery fee as customers get more energy efficient and work to reduce their bill. Now this little $4,400 is on the Builder/Enridge then intern add that to the house price.
Now I know why people want to go live in the woods!

We all are aware that as the natural gas utility starts to lose customers the price per cubic meter will increase along with the delivery fee that is nothing less than pure profit. It is the same with hydro the cost per kilowatt hour has increase along with the delivery fee as customers get more energy efficient and work to reduce their bill. Now this little $4,400 is on the Builder/Enridge then intern add that to the house price.
Now I know why people want to go live in the woods!

Stranded assets, sunk costs... all the grid dependent utilities are obsolete and all the folk who have made obscene fortunes building and (not) maintaining their globe sprawling monstrosities and toxifying our earth water, and air with the products they distribute are in full bore panic mode as the realization dawns that the new era; however much they obstruct it, is already dawning.

Solar and wind power are much better deployed in a site specific or community based conversion to useable electricity that does not require hideous miles of hi-tension power lines, and towers. It is probable that the technological know-how already exists, only the investment in manufacturing stand alone energy conversion is lacking. Similar considerations apply to geothermal or tidal energy, or any other opportunistic geographical energy source - including flowing rivers without dams. This is the sustainable dynamic for energy production, and ultimately remote settlements , farms and even temporary aggregations of humans or industrial activity can be powered by portable renewable energy.

This scenario requires some brainpower on the part of the fat cats who have been coasting for generations on the crude and clumsy capital investments of the previous centuries. Now, how does one create an endless and lucrative money flow from this new off grid era?

As we go along here, is the spectacle or phenomenon of such obdurate, unchanging denialism not starting to feel truly ominous? Like an alarming and increasingly restive number of us will not only never "get" what's actually happening to our environment, but will increasingly challenge THE reality, in part simply because it is also OUR reality. It's textbook irrational. It's like they're not only ALL in some sort of a cult based entirely on an alternate reality but are also "all in" on it nonetheless?
But it's far more than just a difference of opinion on which flavour of ice cream is better; it's truly existential and human nature being what IT is, more and more confrontation is inevitable. The newly fractious right wing has been eagerly stoking that for some time already, not just to defeat us as despised, woke libtards who keep flaunting our superior qualifications for governance, especially at this clearly critical time, but also to gain enough power to impose THEIR perceived version of reality INSTEAD. So what better way than to doggedly deny THE reality?
To call such people unscrupulous is wild understatement, but somehow we all keep pretending they're on a par with the rest of us when who they're actually on a par with is someone like Putin.
Since it's now truly down to us and them, and they view us as gullible, deluded fools (we know you are but what are WE?), we should just pull out all the stops and focus on their big lie(s) and #TRUTH per our scientists, the best heads in the business. Of survival i.e.