Packed gallery watches as Kamloops council votes to support FortisBC renewable gas application

FortisBC vote draws a crowd

A FortisBC director’s presentation about plans to deliver natural gas to more B.C. homes drew a crowd to Kamloops council chambers on Tuesday, including many who said the city needs to focus on its climate goals and move away from burning gas.

Jason Wolfe, FortisBC director of energy solutions, appeared before council to request a letter of support for the utility’s renewable gas application, which is being reviewed by the British Columbia Utilities Commission.

“We are proposing that all new residential connections — so everything from detached homes to multi-family high rises — will get 100 per cent renewable gas for the life of their building,” Wolfe told council.

“That will meet EL-4 of the zero carbon step code, ensure that emissions are low enough to meet any level of that zero carbon step code in fact, but it is there for the life of the building.”

Wolfe said it would be “challenging” to decarbonize using only one source of energy, arguing both electric and gas fuels are needed to ensure B.C. residents can heat and light their homes. He told council renewable natural gas will help the city meet its emission reduction targets, and will give another option to builders and developers.

FortisBC has made similar presentations to other municipalities in B.C. Environmental groups have criticized fossil fuel companies like Fortis for marketing campaigns which put too much emphasis on the role of natural gas as the world works to decarbonize.

A group called Citizens for Climate Action, which is made up of a number of Kamloops residents associated with Transition Kamloops, raised concerns about FortisBC’s plan, calling it “little more than greenwashing.”

The group said Fortis seeks to bring the same greenhouse gas-intensive product to even more customers at a time when communities need to be reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Immediately following Wolfe’s presentation, Coun. Kelly Hall moved that council send Fortis’ requested letter of support.

Coun. Nancy Bepple expressed her doubts about the proposal, noting people need to stop burning gas and petrochemicals in order to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.

Bepple suggested they wait to vote on the matter until after a presentation about Kamloops’ Community Climate Action Plan, saying council should hear from staff whether the move supports goals laid out in the plan.

While Coun. Dale Bass and Coun. Katie Neustaeter agreed, the other six council members voted to approve Hall’s motion and the letter of support.

Coun. Mike O’Reilly said he would support the motion as Fortis’ application will help to diversify energy sources. He said materials used for technology like solar panels have been connected with human rights abuses in other parts of the world.

Joanne Hammond, Citizens for Climate Action spokesperson, expressed disappointment that council voted to support Fortis before hearing from staff on whether it was consistent with the plan.

“We have a gas utility whose only product is the cause of climate change, asking for support to increase the use of these planet-cooking fuels,” she said. “Fortis’ plan is fundamentally at odds with our climate action goals.”

Glen Cheetham, City of Kamloops climate and sustainability manager, told council later in the meeting that the city’s climate policies rely on the supply of low carbon or zero carbon energy sources — regardless of who is producing or supplying it.

“Both BC Hydro and FortisBC are in the process of trying to increase confidence in the province and with local governments that they can deliver and be able to provide the energy that will support our targets,” Cheetham said.

“If either is unable to meet the future demand — either as a result through electrification or some combination of electrification and gases — we’re not going to be able to meet our goals.”

He said this is why Kamloops’ climate plan also puts emphasis on distributed renewable energy, like solar panels and district scale low-carbon energy systems.

A number of residents attended Tuesday’s council meeting to express support for Fortis’ application, including an organizer behind the newly formed Kamloops Citizens Safety Committee. Geoff Snicer told council he didn’t believe there was an urgent need to phase out natural gas, saying this would only hurt Kamloops residents and reduce housing affordability.

Later on, Snicer — who has told Castanet he’s worried the government is using sustainability policy to strip people of their rights — discussed Cheetham’s climate action plan presentation, saying he believed the city was promoting a “global agenda” stemming from the United Nations.

Another spoke up discussing his concerns around relying on electric energy and batteries before touting a number of ideas aligned with conspiracy theories, calling the United Nations a “satanic Luciferian organization."

A woman connected with Transition Kamloops stood up before council, saying she wanted to “provide a counterpoint” to those comments.

“We know that there are all sorts of conspiracy theories out there about climate change,” she said, adding she’s learned there is a growing number of people in B.C. setting out with a strong anti-climate agenda.

“They’re going to keep asking you for questions, wasting staff time, wasting council time, talking about things that have been decided. I just encourage you to draw the line and not waste our tax dollars answering questions about whether climate change is real or not.”

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