Should Ontario switch off the gas when it comes to home heating?

Natural gas is how most people in northern Ontario heat their homes, but that could change in a time of carbon pricing and rising concerns about fossil fuels.

90 per cent of the homes in Ontario that have natural gas use it for heating

Union Gas says 90 per cent of people in Ontario who have access to natural gas use it for home heating. (Shutterstock)

When Devin Arthur and his wife were looking for a home in Greater Sudbury six years ago, there wasn't much debate about the kind of furnace they were looking for.

"Our prerequisite for a house was natural gas heating," said Arthur, a father of two who works in information technology.

He hasn't thought much about the furnace in his Val Therese home since then. He is, however, wondering if his $80-a-month bill will go up with the new cap-and-trade system that came in Jan. 1.

"I wish it was more affordable to switch to electric heating just because it's better for the environment, but natural gas is infinitely more affordable," said Arthur.

Natural gas is how most people in northern Ontario heat their homes, but that could change in a time of carbon pricing and rising concerns about fossil fuels.
The Ontario government is offering $100 million in grants to expand pipelines to parts of the province currently not served by natural gas. (CBC)

Even with cap-and-trade adding $80-a-year to the average bill, Union Gas spokesperson Andrea Stass said the utility doesn't expect to lose many customers.

"Any increase concerns customers I'm sure," she said, "but it's important to note that the cost of competing energy sources is also rising."

With pipeline expansion, Union Gas usually gets 25,000 new customers every year, Stass said, adding that the company supplies 136,000 homes in northeastern Ontario.

Natural gas is used to heat 3.5 million homes and businesses in the province, far more than other options.

'It's going to be a little scary'

There were reports that the province was considering a phase-out of natural gas as part of its climate change action plan, but the Liberal government disputed that.

Sudbury's Cathy Orlando, the national director of the Citizens Climate Lobby, said a slow transition off natural gas would be best.

"By 2050, there's no reason that almost all homes in Canada should be off of most fossil fuels," Orlando said.

"It's going to be a little scary, but we need to do it. We need to transition away from fossil fuels. We need to start now, because the cost of not transitioning away is far scarier."

Orlando said she sees geothermal systems eventually replacing gas as the home heat of choice, but with price tags running over $20,000, that might not happen without government incentives.


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