Restaurateurs have entered the fray in a heated disinformation fight against efforts by some B.C. governments to phase out the use of natural gas in buildings – even though restaurants are exempted from the rules.

In a recent press release, the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservice Association (BCFRSA) and a pro-gas lobby group jointly attacked the province's rules over their potential impact on restaurants' bottom line. Citing a report commissioned from a Vancouver construction contractor, the groups claimed converting an "average" B.C. restaurant from gas to electric stoves and other equipment would cost roughly $800,000.

That figure includes lost time to close for renovations, as well as the cost of switching equipment.

No governments have said they will force existing restaurants to make the switch in their existing locations. The new rules will only apply to new buildings. Even restaurants in new buildings will be allowed to have gas — though it is unlikely gas lines will run to new buildings.

The groups have not made the study public, but did provide a copy to Canada's National Observer. According to the document, the study considered the costs of removing gas infrastructure, installing electrical upgrades and distribution, repairing damage incurred by removing gas infrastructure and supplying electric equipment. It also assessed the potential income losses during the conversion, which accounted for nearly half the price tag.

Citing a report, the groups claimed converting an "average" B.C. restaurant from gas to electric stoves and other equipment would cost roughly $800,000. No governments have said they will force existing restaurants to make the switch.

In a June conversation with Canada's National Observer, Ian Totenson, the BCRFSA president and CEO, noted that "the industry is in real peril, has not recovered from the pandemic, employs 200,000 people, is mostly unprofitable and [is] not reluctant to make change – [but] that change needs to be affordable, meaningful and workable."

The study was commissioned by the BCRFSA alongside the B.C. Coalition for Affordable, Dependable Energy, a lobby group created earlier this year to push against the proposed phase-out of natural gas. The group is directed by Bill Tieleman, a public supporter of Premier David Eby and an old-guard NDP member whose communications firm regularly works for unions.

Climate campaigners have come out swinging against the campaign, which they call misinformation.

"It feels like an aggressive misinformation campaign that is designed to stymie really important climate policies," said Liz McDowell, Stand.Earth's director of buildings campaign. "It is a desperate attempt by an industry front group to try to discredit policies that have nothing to do with restaurants and nothing to do with existing buildings."

According to a plain-language internal government summary of the regulations obtained by Canada's National Observer, the rules, which exclude breweries, warehouses and other industrial buildings entirely, include exceptions that largely allow people to have gas fireplaces and for restaurants to use gas stoves. Barbecues are also exempt from the rules.

In practice, the document notes this might lead to "relatively low demand" for natural gas, potentially making the installation of natural gas lines "cost-prohibitive" for FortisBC and developers. This will effectively make it nearly impossible for new restaurants to use gas appliances, said Totenson.

"We are obviously very concerned about the environment and we try to do the right thing, but at the same time we have got to make sure the industry functions," he said.

Gas stoves are currently the standard in the industry, and some types of cuisines rely on their intense, immediate heat.

Moreover, after the pandemic's immense impact on the industry and the financial challenges posed by recent years' high levels of inflation, restaurant owners want to "reduce uncertainty" generated by the proposed rules, he said.

Yet some industry insiders take issue with the BCRFSA's resistance to the new rules for gas.

"I don't understand the logic of their position on this," said André LaRivière, a long-time sustainable food and restaurant consultant and founder of award-winning Vancouver restaurant Forage. "The changes to municipal codes that are being proposed are for new buildings."

Converting an existing gas restaurant to electricity is clearly "untenable," he said – but that is not what is being proposed. What is actually on the table is building restaurants that are electric from the beginning, which might cost slightly more upfront but typically are more energy-efficient, saving costs over time.

According to a California study that assessed the cost of upgrading to an all-electric kitchen in that state, it would cost on average $168,000 for a commercial quick-service kitchen and up to $400,000 for larger commercial kitchens. Electric appliances are also safer, generating less indoor air pollution harmful to human health. A growing body of scientific research points to dangerous levels of pollutants coming from indoor cooking with natural gas.

Building an all-new electric restaurant – which would be the case in a new building impacted by the regulations, would be cheaper than a conversion, LaRivière said. It is an approach he said hopes will become more common and encouraged other restaurateurs to embrace the transition.

"The restaurant is in a period of transition. The old guard and the establishment are trying to protect the status quo," he said of the BCRFSA's opposition to the proposed rules. "But things are changing."

It's always interesting to see how oil & gas or lobby groups against some change always overstate estimates and make misleading opinions. Too bad they don't overestimate their earnings at tax time to pay their fair share of taxes while they are at it.


“Can Chefs Learn to Love Cooking Without Fire?

“Last week… [t]he city [of Berkeley, CA] became the state’s first to ban natural gas hookups for new buildings, both residential and commercial.”

"For me, cooking is about emotion, it’s about soul, it’s about the basic elements: fire, water, and air,” said Bruce Sherman, long-time chef-owner of the Chicago farm-to-table temple North Pond. “You extract one of those, what’s left?” Sherman said he’d likely exit the restaurant business if regulations forced him to cut off his gas line. He says he wants to do his bit to slow down climate change—”how about not buying products from feedlots?”—but “there are certain things I’d rather not give up.”


“Berkeley spent nearly $300,000 defending its now-defunct gas ban”

I expect the proponents in this BC case are aware of the Berkeley example.

Everyone has justifications for their own actions and reasons as to why they can’t possibly function/exist with/without certain conditions and why they should be exempt from regulatory action. Looks like we are destined to go through instance-by-instance battles as every current user (group) of fossils trots out the “can’t possibly exist without it” line.

To suggest that restaurants can’t exist without methane as fuel is absurd. To observe that methods of cooking would have to change in the face of “no methane” is obvious.

We can have empathy for affected businesses and individuals, but there is a real question of how much responsibility we take as a society for assisting affected parties with changes imposed by the state. The pandemic offered one example, where billions of dollars was given to various businesses to, ostensibly, sustain them during a period of state-imposed abstinence. The union-busting of Thatcher* and Reagan**, as the neoliberal agenda truly took hold^^^, offers another example of societal disruption WITHOUT action to soften the blow. But let me throw out another, more provocative, example: the end of slavery in the USA**.

I’m not suggesting that we equate restaurateurs with slaveholders (though we have heard tales of slave-wages/working conditions in the sector); rather, I think it’s fair to say that there are some parallels in the degree of disruption to society and commerce that necessarily result from the removal from our energy systems of that which continues to be the source of about 80% of our primary energy supply^^. Restaurateurs appear to believe themselves exceptional and that climate action is merely “for the little people”^^^^.

“"We are obviously very concerned about the environment and we try to do the right thing, but at the same time we have got to make sure the industry functions," he said.”

This quote, from the current article, would not be out of place in a press release for any oil company.****

***I note that slavery continues in the world.
^^ It appears that 2019 is the most recent summary data available.
^^^^ It doesn’t hurt to inform the current generation of historical paragons of virtue avarice.
****A reminder of a parody of such fossil greenwashing: Perhaps the restaurant association can come up with a similar ad that says “sorry, but we can’t do our part for the climate without making you starve. It’s a helluva choice but we’re sure you understand that we have your best interests at heart.”

Induction cookstoves offer many of the advantages (e.g. instant heat) of gas stoves without the many environmental and health downsides of cooking with gas.