By Pat Jilesen
Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Greater access to natural gas has significant implications for Ontario farmers, and is an infrastructure priority for our province. We know it’s a more affordable option. It will dramatically boost business opportunities by significantly lowering energy costs for farms and rural communities. In fact, it’s estimated that the energy savings for Ontario’s farm sector alone would be up to $200 million every year.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) has advocated for the need for natural gas across the province, including rural and northern regions, for many years. And there have been announcements by the provincial government that are promising for agriculture and our rural communities.
Energy is one of the largest costs for rural homes, farms and small businesses. If natural gas was available across the province, it would free up $1.1 billion in annual energy savings for an estimated 500,000 residents, farms and business owners. Those energy savings would generate significant direct and indirect economic benefits to communities across Ontario.
The Ontario government has prioritized natural gas access and has reinforced its support for a customer rate subsidy to help expand natural gas infrastructure. Specifically, for privately funded expansion to more small, rural and Indigenous communities using a customer rate subsidy to make natural gas infrastructure expansion more feasible. The Natural Gas Expansion Support Program (NGESP), which was launched this past summer, will help extend natural gas and encourage communities to partner with gas distributors to help make that happen.
Since July 1, NGESP began adding a $1 customer charge to residential gas bills in Ontario and will fund natural gas expansion projects. OFA will continue to work with government to ensure a long-term, phased approach to support natural gas expansion across rural and Indigenous communities. We need smart expansion – a concept that combines community expansion opportunities with economic development opportunities. This means that in addition to rural homes, expansion routes must include Ontario farms and local businesses.
Today, 20% of rural Ontario is currently serviced with clean, abundant and affordable natural gas. OFA supports a customer subsidy and long-term smart expansion plan as a solid start to bring natural gas to every corner of the province.
OFA looks forward to a continued commitment from the government to remove the barriers that are limiting the accessibility of natural gas to rural Ontario. Unlocking new economic opportunities across rural Ontario will bring millions of dollars in new investment freedom to families, businesses and farms across rural communities for generations to come.