The Path to Clean Growth: FortisBC’s Role in B.C.’s Clean Future

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By: Tyler Bryant, Public Policy Manager, FortisBC

With over $8.5 billion in infrastructure delivering energy to over one million consumers, FortisBC is a key player in B.C.’s ambitious GHG reduction goals. But how do you shift such a huge utility company to join a cleaner future? Clean50 2020 Honouree Tyler Bryant explains his team’s approach.

As the largest energy provider in British Columbia (B.C.) and the supplier of natural gas to over half of households in the province, FortisBC has considerable exposure to provincial and municipal efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. After a change in government in 2017, B.C. renewed its ambitious commitments to address climate change and reduce GHG emissions. As a major supplier of natural gas and clean electricity, we at FortisBC needed to respond to the imperative to decarbonize and harness the potential of clean energy, while still maintaining the health of our utility and affordability for ratepayers in B.C.

FortisBC Service Areas. Image: FortisBC

From this starting point, FortisBC developed its Clean Growth Pathway to 2050, which was the first time FortisBC publicly stated its intention to be a key partner for the implementation of the provincial government’s ambitious CleanBC climate plan. The Pathway outlines key actions in energy efficiency, low-carbon transport, renewable gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) that FortisBC will take to reduce emissions in line with B.C.’s goals. In fact, the Pathway was the catalyst for the Government of BC to pursue one of the world’s first target of 15% renewable gas in the gas supply by 2030. Taken together, actions by FortisBC will account for over 75% of the emissions reductions targeted in the buildings sector and 13% of the total emissions reductions identified in the Province’s CleanBC plan. This means, in essence, that FortisBC’s investments are crucial to achieving provincial carbon reduction goals.

Getting to this point required hard work from my team and I. The opportunities and challenges of decarbonizing a major utility impacts every aspect of our company and it was essential that we understood these opportunities, which required convening meaningful internal consultations with staff and leaders. We needed to define what we could do and cultivate acceptance of the Pathway, requiring dialogue and discussion on the various factors at work externally and the levers we could pull internally with staff, managers and senior leadership. What we found was a strong appetite to be bold and ambitious on climate action – all that was missing was the spark for action.

FortisBC’s role in driving B.C.’s sustainable prosperity. Image: FortisBC

We also identified what was missing: proof of concept for what a low carbon FortisBC could look like and a high-level roadmap of how to get there. We saw this as a crucial step if we wanted to organize our staff and key external stakeholders around this vision. This would develop a narrative around what a healthy low-carbon gas and electric utility could be and stimulate an action plan by which we could achieve it.

This is where I led the development of the Energy Vision 2050 project, which modelled out scenarios for BC to achieve 80% reductions in GHG emissions while maintaining a healthy gas and electric utility. The analysis was instrumental in defining the critical role that our utility could play to provide a more agile, reliable, and cost-effective low-carbon energy system in the province. Our findings showed that using the set of GHG reduction opportunities at FortisBC’s disposal and maintaining a role for the gas system was significantly less expensive than other pathways. We realized that FortisBC and our customers would benefit from being a part of a low carbon future.

The next steps for our utility are to bring this narrative forward and help lead the way towards decarbonization in B.C. with our customers, policymakers and other key institutions in our provincial and national energy systems. At the same time, the framework to achieve this significant shift in our business and operations will need to drive forward as well.

FortisBC’s Pathway to Clean Growth for 2050. Image: FortisBC

Throughout this process, I’ve learned that internal change-making at this scale carries important risks, opportunities and responsibilities. FortisBC has always been a leader in providing low-carbon and environmentally responsible innovations to our customers, giving us a solid base to start from. Key external inputs like ambitious government policies are important to harness and use to stimulate effective and honest conversations at the utility. A common understanding of government motivations and the attitudes of our customers is important to help guide the rails on which we are embarking.

Looking forward, we are only at the beginning of this process. Much more will be said about the role of FortisBC in a low carbon world in a short time to come.  But there’s a growing sense that how we work together both within the utility and with our key stakeholders will need to grow and adapt to this new business priority.

Achieving the outcomes described in the Pathway won’t be easy and requires a shift in how we manage and operate the utility. However, this is where the world is going and with over $8.5 billion in infrastructure in the province delivering energy to over one million consumers, the Pathway describes a future where British Columbians still benefit from the vast network of energy delivery infrastructure while still allowing opportunities for our utility to strengthen.  I am excited to be a part of this journey and will continue propelling our company forward on the path to clean growth.