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Proposed upgrades to B.C.'s efficiency standards for furnaces, water heaters and other home-heating appliances are coming under fire from some contractors and the province's far right.

The proposed Highest Efficiency Equipment Standard (HEES) would take effect on Jan. 1, 2030, and require all home and water-heating appliances sold in the province be at least 100 per cent efficient at converting energy to heat. This spells the end for gas-only furnaces and water heaters, which at their best can only reach about 98 per cent efficiency, but allows for the continued use of electric baseboard heaters, heat pumps and hybrid electric/gas heating systems.

B.C. is the first Canadian province to implement these types of efficiency requirements for heating appliances.

The changes are part of the province's overarching plan to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings, which account for about 12 per cent of the province's planet-warming emissions. The plan also includes updates to the B.C. building code and guidelines to help municipalities limit greenhouse gas emissions from buildings.

The HEES is a "pillar" of this broader emissions-reduction strategy, explained George Benson, a member of the B.C. Climate Solutions Council.

"I worry that the Highest Efficiency Equipment Standard is often being made out to be something that it's not: a gas ban," he said. "This mixture of misinformation and misunderstanding could end up hurting or delaying something that can drive prosperity and support affordability for British Columbians."

While FortisBC is undeniably lobbying on the new regulations, said Jessica McIlroy, the buildings program manager for the Pembina Institute, contractors, salespeople and the province’s conservative party BC United are also pushing back on them.

Canada's National Observer asked FortisBC to outline its position on the proposed efficiency rules, whether it has published any ads framing the rules as a ban and if it has been pressuring businesses or municipal politicians to reject the changes. FortisBC “always appreciate(s) opportunities to consult with government on matters that impact our customers," said Diana Sorace, the company’s senior adviser of corporate communications, in a statement.

Industry fears about changing standards and a lack of training are valid, McIlroy said. But to oppose the plan, the opposition has been twisted with climate disinformation propagated by fossil fuel companies.

Proposed upgrades to B.C.'s efficiency standards for furnaces, water heaters and other home-heating appliances are coming under fire from some contractors and the province's far right.

"Gas industry members have come together to try to say: 'There won't be enough electricity. You're taking away consumer choice. It'll be way too expensive,' and are trying to mount these campaigns against it," she explained.

"A lot of the pushback has essentially latched onto the existing narrative (that) governments and regulators are trying to phase out or ban the use of gas," added Dylan Heerema, a senior policy advisor at Ecotrust Canada.

He pointed out that claim is not true: the "efficiency-driven" regulation still allows gas as a backup system and gas heat pumps, which are more expensive than electric ones. Meanwhile, efforts by B.C. and municipal governments to limit the expansion of natural gas infrastructure have focused on restricting new gas infrastructure and fossil gas use but are making no moves to ban the fuel outright.

Municipalities like Nanaimo and Burnaby, which have implemented some of these measures to ban gas infrastructure in new buildings, have come under sustained fire from natural gas industry lawsuits, lobbying and disinformation campaigns.

Now, it appears some construction contractors and conservative politicians are also parroting the gas industry's resistance to the proposed efficiency standard.

Canada's National Observer obtained the Microsoft Teams chat log from a person who attended a Feb. 6, 2024, provincial government consultation session with industry about efficiency standards.

The 13-page document reveals a handful of B.C. heating and home construction contractors criticizing the proposed rules over their supposed cost and impact on the electrical grid. Some even directly referenced claims about electricity shortages being made by FortisBC.

For example, Kelowna contractor David Pfuetzner wrote that "electrification is IMPOSSIBLE. No capacity," citing "the future of energy conference just put on by Fortis." That same day, a nearly identical claim was made by Doug Slater, FortisBC vice-president of Indigenous relations and regulatory affairs, at a Vancouver conference sponsored by Fortis.

"Capacity is a challenge" for B.C., said Slater. Capacity is the ability of the electric grid to meet demand at a specific time, and gas offers "large volumes of energy affordably and over long seasons."

Speaking at the same conference, Dan Woynillowicz, BC Hydro's external energy adviser and principal at Polaris Strategy + Insight, said the province could theoretically meet its energy needs with renewables if it expanded wind and solar power capacity and better linkages with other provincial grids.

A report published last year by the David Suzuki Foundation in conjunction with a team of University of Victoria researchers concluded that Canada can meet its anticipated energy needs without using fossil fuels or developing major hydroelectric or nuclear projects by investing in renewables and improving interprovincial grid linkages.

The province could also relegate gas to some industrial processes and back up the electrical system while curtailing FortisBC's home-heating distribution system, he said.

Another person on the Feb. 6 call, who owns a Vancouver Island wood and gas fireplace and heat pump installation company, also emphasized that FortisBC is planning to transition its fuel supply to so-called "renewable natural gas," which is made by capturing methane from organic materials that would otherwise escape to the atmosphere.

Renewable natural gas is "actually burning materials which would otherwise cause a greater heating effect," he wrote. "Thus, global warming potential is actually less, and potentially even less than hydro."

However, according to FortisBC's own projections, renewable natural gas made from organic matter will only ever account for a small fraction of the utility's future gas supply. Most of the remainder will come from so-called "blue" or "turquoise" hydrogen, which are made from fossil fuels.

Contractors aren't the only group pushing back on the proposed regulations. Last month, the right-leaning BC United published a press release attacking the efficiency regulations as an attempt to "ban natural gas for home heating by 2030." The party claims the rules will also "mean that families need to dish out anywhere from $4,100 to $15,000 for new heating systems, which may never see a financial return on that investment."

That is incorrect. The regulations do not ban gas heating, take effect after 2030 and only require building owners to buy new, more efficient equipment when older furnaces and water heaters reach the end of their life. Research by the Canadian Climate Institute shows that over the course of their lifetime, energy-efficient appliances like electric heat pumps are cheaper than their gas-powered counterparts.

While McIlroy wasn't expecting the outcry over the standards, she thought it would "easily get through because it's very technical." Still, she isn’t surprised by the pushback. After all, the standard is "yet another way" fossil fuel companies are "gonna lose business."

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I don't live in BC, but walking around on winter mornings, I notice quite a few homes in my city still have furnaces which exhaust through a chimney on the roof. How many years ago was it that my father installed a high-efficiency furnace, (which exhausts through a pipe in the wall) in our house? .. Decades ago..and no doubt it has paid for itself since then.

This is an aggressive schedule, since winter-grade heat pumps only came out in numbers this last year; heat pumps will be cheaper and better in a few years.

If the political pushback gets too harsh and there's chances of another carbon-tax winter-heating debacle, I'd suggest a compromise where the overall building has to be heated at over 100% efficiency. That would allow people to get a slightly smaller and cheaper furnace, then a $599 heat pump that just plugs into the wall, like an air conditioner. Providing 5-10% of the household heating with a 300% efficient heat pump gets the average for the house up to 105% or some such, and makes the number.

Also, I'd consider regional disparities. The centre of BC has more cold and less money than the coast.

As to whether the measures are intended to ban gas . . . well, let's be honest, they're not, as such, but they're a step on that road.

And they should be.

Gas heating needs to be banned as soon as it is practicable. That does not mean instantly, got a lot of replacements to do before we get there, but that is the destination. Fortis needs to either shift its line of business or go down. Some people will lose money as a result of this, but, well, too bad.

When these policies are enacted in the context of BC's Step Code, a graduated building energy efficiency requirement, which will reach the top teir at about the same time (2032, I believe), the province will be well on its way to successfully fighting climate change in the built environment over time.

Meanwhile, Passive House construction is gaining popularity. Though 10%-15% more expensive up front, the life cycle operating costs of a PH are rock bottom and cover the initial extra capital investment in a decade or two of operational savings.

The above covers new builds or major renovations. Renovating older houses to be more energy efficient without gutting them first remains a challenge and will need additional government grants. This work is often done piecemeal over many years because residents often need to live in the house as disruptive renovations proceed.

The advancements in heat pumps are quite remarkable. Cold weather central heating units are improving very quickly in part due to the impact of Russia's weaponization of fossil fuels in Europe over the attack on Ukraine. The reactionary spillover in quickly replacing gas with electric heat pumps all over the world was one of Putin's many miscalculations.

Today electric heat pumps are appearing in clothes dryers and hot water tanks. Both of these common appliances can now be powered by an ordinary 120 volt, 15 amp standard wall outlet. Neither require venting or ducting because excess moisture is removed through a condenser and drained into a small tank or through a small diameter pipe, while the heat is continuously recycled back into the unit.

Doing wiring under permit is a helluva lot easier and cheaper than running gas lines.

It's noteworthy to reiterate that Passive House construction is becoming more efficient and costs are coming down. This is due to the precision computer-aided manufacturing process under controlled conditions in factory settings.

Entire completed wall and roof panels are assembled in exact sequences on semi-automated assembly lines to millimetre tolerances, then trucked to the construction site and lifted and bolted into place in a calculated order by a crane. The units are quickly sealed at their connection edges. This minimizes the on-site exposure to weather to a few weeks, rather than months. But even then, the exterior weathering surfaces are quickly attached immediately after installation of the panels if they haven't already been installed on the assembly line.

Precision Passive House construction methodology can be applied to virtually all building types. Several technology institutes offer courses in Passive House building standards to the building trades.

Unfortunately it seems the biggest obstacles we have to fix what we need to avoid a calamity is in the hands of this FAR RIGHT shit heads. I never guessed we would have to deal with these evangelical idiots that keep making every one's lives miserable hoping that GOD will save them from their own selves.