New B.C. climate strategy appears to absorb impact of near-term LNG

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and Premier John Horgan celebrate the new CleanBC plan on Dec.5, 2018. Image: Government of British Columbia

British Columbia will need to increase its use of its already clean electricity in many sectors of the economy, invest in more energy efficient buildings and increase the renewable fuel content of gasoline, diesel and natural gas over the next 12 years to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Premier John Horgan announced his government's new climate change and energy plan, CleanBC, Wednesday, December 5.

Many of the key policies of that plan were previously announced, including a zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate.

The most notable new policies unveiled Wednesday include an increase to the renewable fuel content requirements of B.C.'s low carbon fuel standard, and measures that will require that all natural gas used for home heating and industry to eventually have a 15% renewable fuel content.

Also, building code changes will be required to ensure that all new homes are "net-zero" in terms of emissions by 2032.

While there was no mention of the LNG sector that poses a challenge for the government in meeting its climate change objectives at Wednesday's announcement, it appears that the plan absorbs the increased emissions from the LNG Canada and Woodfibre LNG projects.

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver wholeheartedly endorsed the plan, although he continued to express skepticism that it will work if additional LNG projects are approved, or if the LNG Canada project moves to a second phase, which would expand from two trains to four.

Weaver has expressed deep skepticism over the Horgan government’s support for an LNG industry and vowed he would bring the government down over the issue, unless he could be convinced that the LNG industry could fit into B.C. new climate action plan.

While Weaver seems to accept that the two projects moving forward – LNG Canda and Woodfibre LNG – can be accommodated in the new clean growth plan for now, he said any expansion would make it virtually impossible to meet emissions reduction targets.

And he said it will become increasingly difficult to accommodate the industry in the coming decades, since the climate action targets require ever increasing decreases in emissions – a 40% reduction below 2007 levels in 2030, and 80% by 2050.

"With two trains, the plan is there to get to 40% reductions with two trains," Weaver said. "It's there. However, when you go from 2030 to 2050, you have to come down to 80% reductions."

The plan calls for more electrification of the economy, including the oil and gas sector. That increased electrification will require 8% more electricity by 2030. Michelle Mungall, minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, said B.C. will generate enough power to meet that demand into the 2030.

"Beyond the 2030s, we have to look at what are our generating opportunities," she said.

The clean growth plan includes "ringfencing" of carbon taxes for industry. Benchmarks will be set for industries like mines, LNG, pulp mills and cement plants, and those that meet or beat emissions intensity benchmarks will get some of the carbon taxes rebated.

Greg D'Avignon, president of the Business Council of BC, said the plan will be good for B.C.'s economy, as it allows B.C. producers of products to market their products as low-carbon.

"The opportunity is that, if we're competitive in doing that, we get an economic benefit instead of economic leakage," he said.

Key policies of the plan include:

  • increasing low carbon fuel standard for gasoline and diesel to increase from 7.4% to 20% required renewable content;
  • requiring a 15% renewable fuel content for natural gas used for heating and for industry;
  • 16,000 homes to be retrofiited by 2030 to improve energy efficiency, including incentives for homeowners to buy heat pumps; and
  • diversion of 95% of organic waste from agriculture, industry and municipalities.

The plan so far accounts for 75% of the required emissions reductions by 2030 with the remaining 25% to be identified over the next two years.

Clean Energy Canada executive director Merran Smith applauded the plan, and pointed to progress already made through things like B.C.' carbon tax.

"We've demonstrated here in B.C. that we can reduce carbon pollution while creating jobs," Merran said.

The plan has also been applauded by the Pembina Institute and the Sierra Club.

B.C.’s climate action plan aims for a 40% reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs) below 2007 levels by 2030. B.C. produced about 62 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MT/CO2e) in 2015. A 40% reduction below 2007 levels (67 MT) would require taking 27 MT out of the economy by 2030.

But the first phase of the LNG Canada project would add 3.5 MT/CO2e, according to the B.C. government and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

B.C.’s oil and gas sector accounts for 22% of B.C.’s GHGs. Transportation accounts for 37%, buildings 12%.

The government’s plan calls for more electrification of the gas fields of northeastern B.C. That will require an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in new transmission lines.

Horgan said he thinks the federal government will help with that.

"We're going to be certainly looking to Ottawa for assistance in a range of issues, not the least of which is electrification," he said. "We've already been in discussions with the federal government on that."

For the built environment, the plan calls for retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient and phasing out natural gas for heating buildings.

Electrical heating is about three times more expensive than natural gas, when resistance heating is used, so the government’s plan calls for the use of heat pumps for heating and cooling. Heat pumps use much less electricity than resistance heating.

Some of the measures for transportation are already in place or were recently announced.

They include a low carbon fuel standards, which has been in place for years in B.C. and subsidies for electric vehicles.

The government also recently announced a zero emission vehicle mandate that will require 10% of all new car sales to be low-emission vehicles (electric or hydrogen fuel cell) by 2025.

— Business in Vancouver