The Ontario government will begin reviewing projects eligible for support through the Natural Gas Expansion Program in early 2020
By Jackie Clark
The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) will assess areas of rural Ontario for projects eligible for funding through the Natural Gas Expansion Program in early 2020, Bill Walker, the province’s associate minister of energy, announced in a Dec. 17 statement.
The OFA has put pressure on the provincial government to invest in this kind of infrastructure for some time, said Rejean Pommainville, a director with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and farmer in eastern Ontario.
“I think it’s great news for the OFA, we’ve been pushing for strategic investment in rural Ontario with the previous government and this government for quite a few years now. I think finally we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Pommainville told Farms.com.
OFA officials have talked to the government “about roads, bridges, broadband, schools and hospitals, but natural gas is one big issue that we’ve been pushing. In Western Canada, about 98 per cent of all rural areas have access to natural gas and it’s not the same case in rural Ontario,” he said.
In fact, only about 20 per cent of Ontario’s rural residents and businesses have access to natural gas, compared to about 88 per cent of their urban counterparts, Pommainville said.
The need for natural gas access was underscored this fall during the CN strike, when propane shortages caused delays in grain drying and stress for farmers who use the fuel to heat their barns.
“Because of a lack of infrastructure when it comes to natural gas in rural Ontario, farmers and businesses were really affected by the fact that, (for some of them), their only source of energy was propane,” Pommainville explained.
For some farmers, “operations stopped completely,” he added.
Access to a consistent source of clean energy could help attract businesses to rural regions and provide stability for farmers, he said.
“Farmers have the same issue, if they don’t have access to natural gas, which is a clean fuel in abundant supply in urban centres, they are restricted,” Pommainville said.
Natural gas expansion across rural Ontario can address immediate needs, but also help with longer-term issues such as environmental sustainability and economic growth.
In the future, natural gas infrastructure could be adapted to transport and use environmentally-conscious energy sources like biogases, Pommainville added.
“If the lines were in rural areas like we hope they will be in the future, it would be a very good way to protect the environment and have an additional source of energy,” he said.
The OFA would like to see 20 years of annual investments to provide natural gas access to 500,000 farm operations and businesses, for a savings of around $1 billion in energy costs annually.
The province’s current program includes $130 million of funding over three years. The OEB will investigate potential projects early in the new year and propose them to the government by August 2020.
“Natural gas lines in rural Ontario will benefit everybody,” Pommainville said. “If rural Ontario is prosperous, the rest of the province will be too.”
OlegMalyshev\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo