Enbridge has a new fight on its hands as Competition Bureau Canada officially launches an investigation against the gas giant over allegations the company is misleading customers about the role of gas in the energy transition.
Specifically, Enbridge has promoted new gas hook-ups as the cheapest way for Ontarians to heat their homes, while branding natural gas as “low carbon” and “clean energy.”
Climate scientists are clear that natural gas, which is mostly made of the potent greenhouse gas methane, is a fossil fuel that must be phased out if the world is to limit the catastrophic impacts of climate change.
Advocacy organization Environmental Defence is arguing Enbridge’s claims cause real harm. In communities where Enbridge plans to expand, installing new gas lines and investing in new gas furnaces and other appliances would cost consumers thousands of dollars more than switching to heat pumps over the life of the equipment, the organization argues. Expanding the gas grid will also push targets to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions further out of reach by locking in fossil fuel infrastructure that would last for decades.
“Enbridge’s dishonest marketing is duping people into installing new gas hook-ups and spending thousands of dollars on new gas furnaces and other appliances, falsely claiming it’s cheaper than heating with electricity, which is just not true,” said Environmental Defence programs director Keith Brooks in a statement. “It is good that the Competition Bureau has agreed to investigate Enbridge.”
The initial complaint filed by Environmental Defence, Ontario Clean Air Alliance, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and a group of Ontario residents in September accuses Enbridge of falsely claiming gas is the most cost-effective way to heat homes. Enbridge has made this claim online and in communities 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 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.
“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.
In a statement, Jack Gibbons, chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, said heat pumps provide affordable, clean energy.
“People need to know that if they are about to install new heating and cooling equipment, they should go with a heat pump,” he said. “But Enbridge is misleading these people and trying to lock in more Ontarians to gas. It’s shameful and should be brought to a stop.”
Enbridge is officially under investigation by the Competition Bureau for allegedly misleading customers about the affordability and potential of natural gas in the energy transition.
Enbridge told Canada’s National Observer it is “committed to fully co-operating with the Competition Bureau,” but would not comment on the ongoing investigation.
The Competition Bureau investigation comes in the wake of the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) separately challenging Enbridge’s plans to handle the energy transition.
Last month, the OEB said it was unconvinced by Enbridge’s plan to spread the cost of new gas infrastructure over 40 years and have existing customers pay the costs through higher rates. The OEB instead ordered developers to pay upfront for any new gas hook-ups.
Ontario’s Energy Minister Todd Smith was quick to respond, announcing the day after the decision he was “extremely disappointed” and intends to introduce legislation to reverse the OEB’s order.