Hundreds of homeowners are connecting to natural gas in Victoria each year, a trend the city is looking to counter.
About 500 to 550 oil heating systems are in use in the city, but they’re declining. Alternatively, natural gas use is on the rise, city staff said in late January, reaching 9,800 total residential connections in 2021.
The city’s recent emissions update found natural gas produces more greenhouse gases than any other fuel source in the capital.
Victoria is promoting electrification solutions over natural gas using several awareness campaigns, including the Climate Friendly Homes and Home Energy Navigator programs.
One of the main purposes of this campaign is to inform the public that natural gas is not a clean energy source, despite the “extensive” advertising on the fuel, Derek de Candole, a community energy specialist with the city, told council on Jan. 26.
Natural gas has been promoted as a low-carbon alternative to oil because it produces about 25 per cent less pollution.
“Electricity, on the other hand, produces about 96 per cent fewer emissions than oil and 94 per cent fewer emissions than natural gas,” de Candole said. “Electricity equipment is almost always more efficient too, using less energy overall.”
The city also noted natural gas use’s global warming potential is 17 times higher than electricity.
“Moving in lockstep with the District of Saanich, city communications on climate action efforts are becoming increasingly explicit about the emissions caused by natural gas and other fossil fuels and the need to stop burning them to heat our homes and workplaces,” de Candole said.
The city’s technical review found all new construction needs to use 100 per cent renewable systems by 2025 to meet 2030 and mid-century emission reduction targets.
The city has mandated that all new buildings must produce zero emissions as of July 2025. That requirement will come into force as soon as the province initiates its Carbon Pollution Standard – legislation allowing communities to limit the emissions from new buildings – which has not yet been implemented despite the expectation it would be by the end of 2022.
But staff say the larger challenge will be reducing the emissions of existing buildings. Commercial, institutional, industrial and multi-unit residential buildings combined make up about a third of the city’s total emissions and use natural gas for 88 per cent of their heating needs.
Single-family homes are responsible for 16 per cent of the city’s total emissions, while those residents use more energy per person than those living in multi-unit buildings.
Victoria has aimed to get more residents to switch out their fossil fuel systems for heat pumps by providing a top-up to incentives provided by upper levels of government, which give out about $11,500.
The city program ran from 2018 to 2022 and dolled out $450,000 in top-up incentives to 266 homes that switched to a heat pump from oil, natural gas or propane systems.
At its peak in 2022, a homeowner utilizing heat pump incentives from all levels of government could’ve accessed about $14,000.
“Eventually, the hope is (heat pumps) will become the default choice for people updating their home heating system, while adding cooling,” de Candole said.
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