Canada's Gas Industry Is Mad at Justin Trudeau

The new Greener Homes Grant Program doesn't include natural gas.

Gas water heater

Andrey Deryabin/ Getty Images

When the Canadian government unveiled its Greener Homes Grant program, it did not include the upgrading of gas heating appliances as eligible for subsidy. This was a surprise; the gas industry is very powerful in Canada and much of it comes from the Province of Alberta. This is the same government that just a few months earlier had announced a hydrogen strategy that included "blue hydrogen" and was clearly a sop to Alberta and the fossil fuel industry—what happened? Suddenly there is no room at the table for clean, affordable, maybe someday renewable Canadian natural gas?

Usually one would expect immediate outrage from the industry and a lot of complaints in the media. So far, nothing but crickets, except for one exceedingly polite letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from Timothy Egan, the President and CEO of the Canadian Gas Association, starting with:

"This letter requests, on behalf of the members of the Canadian Gas Association (CGA), an amendment to the eligibility criteria of the Canada Greener Homes Grant (CGHG) to include natural gas technology solutions for Canadian homebuyers."

Egan wonders how this could possibly be, given that "despite the fact that no changes are required to natural gas appliances for them to use net zero-emission renewable natural gas (RNG), and the fact that most natural gas appliances are expected to be able to burn natural gas-hydrogen blends with minimal or no modifications."

Egan does not explain that RNG is the methane that comes from organic waste rotting landfill sites or digesting animal manure, which is not exactly a growing resource. Nor does he mention that mixing hydrogen into the natural gas stream doesn't actually reduce the amount of natural gas used very much, because it is not very dense. As energy expert Paul Martin explained to Treehugger, if your supply was 20% hydrogen, you would have to burn 14% more volume.

Egan then introduces natural gas heat pumps: "A technology that can deliver significant cost and fuel savings without the cold weather efficiency and operating issues facing electric air source heat pumps. Natural gas heat pumps represent a new step-change in efficiency – from over 90% today for furnaces to 130-140% for heat pumps." He claims they do not have the problems of cold weather efficiency that electric heat pumps do, "as well as the elimination of toxic working fluids such as ammonia used by absorption heat pumps."

Gas heat pumps

As this industry white paper notes, the gas heat pumps Egan describes do exist, but mostly for commercial installations. Some simply replace the electric motor that runs the compressor with a gas-fired internal combustion engine and is subject to all of the limitations in terms of temperature or greenhouse gas refrigerants that electric ones do. Others work on the same principle as propane fridges, the absorption cycle, with ammonia as the refrigerant. Most are more expensive, are not yet available, and do not offer any discernable benefits over electric heat pumps.

But perhaps more to the point, they are not available now—neither is RNG nor is green hydrogen— so there's no reason for the government to consider them as part of a program now.

Egan concludes:

"The CGA does not understand why a more reliable, more affordable, energy pathway – gaseous infrastructure – would be excluded. We do not understand why choice is being taken away from Canadians."..We hope this is an oversight, and that the program eligibility criteria can be amended. We ask the Government of Canada to revisit their program design and ensure emerging technology solutions are not arbitrarily excluded."

We reached out to Monte Paulsen of RDH Building Science again (he commented on the original grant program) and he first advised that we watch Samantha Bee in "Here's Why Your Gas Stove Is Killing You"—it is hilarious, devastating, and accuses the industry of "gaslighting" the public.

He then told Treehugger "there is no credible pathway to zero emissions that does not include a rapid wind-down of burning gas in buildings." This obviously is a problem for the gas industry.

"The removal of most gas appliances will inevitably lead to the collapse of the business of distributing gas to buildings through pipes. This is why the gas industry is panicking... We need responsible leaders in the gas industry and government to begin discussing an orderly wind-down of the network. It probably makes sense for methane captured from landfills or other sources—sometimes called “clean” gas because the label “natural” gas has been rendered meaningless—to be a part of that orderly wind-down plan. But there is no sense in subsidizing the installation of new gas appliances when we know the gas network is on its way to being mothballed."

It's unlikely that the deference and politeness in this discussion will last; this is an industry that is facing extinction, with companies and governments fighting for survival. This will get interesting.