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York Region, environmental groups call on province to reduce emissions
June 28, 2021

Concern is in response to Ontario’s plans to replace decommissioned nuclear plants with increased natural gas generation

York Region is joining a chorus of municipalities and environmental groups asking the province to reverse plans to expand natural gas usage.

Chair and CEO Wayne Emmerson is sending a letter on behalf of the region's politicians asking for energy plans to have a strong preference for zero-emissions sources.

York Region Environmental Alliance executive director Gloria Marsh said she hopes that "enough voices" will convince the province to change course toward greener energy.

“Give the province credit. It has changed its course with enough outcry,” Marsh said. “We need to keep it up.”

The move is in response to Ontario’s plans to replace decommissioned nuclear plants with increased natural gas generation. This has been opposed by 16 Ontario municipalities and 45 independent organizations, according to York’s 2020 Corporate Energy Report.

The report from environmental services commissioner Erin Mahoney states the province pushing natural gas could have downstream impacts on the municipality’s own environmental targets.

“Replacing lost nuclear generation (zero-emission) with natural gas generation will increase greenhouse gas emissions related to electricity consumption,” the report said. “Regional plans and strategies driven by Vision 2051 rely on Ontario’s clean electricity to power fleet and facilities.”

East Gwillimbury was one of the communities included in a natural gas expansion the province announced June 9. The expansion included more than $234 million for 43 different communities.

“We’re making good on our promise to deliver affordable energy and expand natural gas pipelines to more communities, while at the same time improving economic development and creating thousands of new jobs,” Premier Doug Ford said.

Meanwhile, York Region is ahead of its own emissions reduction plans due to the pandemic. The corporation’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by about 13,000 tonnes compared to 2019, mainly driven by decreased fuel expenditure due to pandemic-related operations changes.

York's emissions were 66,975 tonnes overall -- equivalent to the municipality's 2029 target.

The report states although this was a skewed outcome driven by the pandemic, there are opportunities to maintain some reductions through remote work and virtual meetings in the future.

“Sustained optimization of services can demonstrate regional leadership in combating climate change,” the report said. “Staff are evaluating opportunities to integrate initiatives implemented during the pandemic to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the post-pandemic work environment.”

Marsh said York could always do more. Her organization is pushing for more clean-energy initiatives such as wind power and solar panels in the region.

“We need to do everything we can to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” Marsh said.