David Staples: Ouch! Carbon tax on natural gas now more than double the cost of gas itself

The carbon tax on natural gas for home heating in Alberta is now going to be more than double the price of the natural gas itself.

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Hardly any of the facts and figures in the debate over the carbon tax and its April 1 increase are going to stick with Albertans. Folks are too busy working, raising kids, and trying to figure out how to pay all their bills to dig in deeply and memorize most arguments for and against the tax.

But one new fact just got my attention. This particular fact is going to be plenty sticky, I suspect.

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It’s that the carbon tax on natural gas for home heating in Alberta is now going to be more than double the price of the natural gas itself.

That hurts, especially because there’s little any of us can do about such a cost. Winter is freezing cold. We need to keep our homes heated.

It’s also sticky in Alberta, in particular, because of our political reality, that the Trudeau Liberals decided to drop the carbon tax on home-heating oil for three years, thus providing welcome relief to any Canadians who heat their homes that way, but hardly anyone in Alberta uses home-heating oil. Yet it’s widely used in the Maritimes, where — surprise, surprise — the Liberals hope to hold and win seats in the next federal election.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith detailed the “more than double” fact about the carbon tax on natural gas in her Zoom presentation to the House of Commons parliamentary government operations committee.

The average Alberta home uses about 10 gigajoules (GJ) of natural gas per month, says Atco gas. The carbon tax on one gigajoule is going up to $4.09, while the price for that same gigajoule itself is $1.72, Smith told the committee.

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Smith also noted that even when you factor in the federal rebate on the carbon tax, the net negative cost for each Alberta will be $900 this year. The federal government will keep 25 cents out of every dollar of carbon tax it collects.

“Everybody knows that is not a good deal,” Smith said.

That net annual loss for every Albertan will triple to $2,700 by 2030 if the Liberals stay in power and raise the carbon tax as promised. “This isn’t just reckless, it’s immoral and it’s inhumane,” Smith said.

Of course, Smith got plenty of pushback.

Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk from Windsor pointed out the federal carbon tax on a litre of gasoline is going up by just three cents, but noted the Alberta government brought back a provincial gas tax and will increase it by four cents on April 1, making it 13 cents per litre.

Kusmierczyk said Smith was at an “axe the tax” rally in Edmonton the previous evening and pointedly asked her if it was about axing her own gas tax hike.

Smith fired back, saying Albertans will now pay 35 cents for every litre of gasoline in federal tax — either carbon tax, federal excise tax or GST — while the Alberta government charges just 13 cents per litre.

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Alberta’s sliding gasoline tax is set based on the quarterly price of West Texas Intermediate oil. The tax is fully suspended if prices go above US$90 per barrel, but fully reinstated if it’s below US$80.

Pushed on Alberta’s own plan to lower emissions, Smith focused on industry here having a long history of emissions reductions, the province’s new net-zero plants for petrochemicals, hydrogen and cement, and on Alberta’s hopes of exporting LNG to replace coal-burning in Asia.

“If we could simply reduce China’s reliance on coal by 20 per cent, that would offset all of the emissions of all of Canada,” Smith said.

Liberal MP Yasir Naqvi from Ottawa Centre criticized Alberta’s recent moratorium on solar and wind development, and asked Smith if she thought oil rigs impact viewscapes as has been alleged about wind turbines.

“The wind turbines are the size of the Calgary Tower,” Smith said.

“I’m asking about oil rigs,” Naqvi said. “Do they impact viewscapes, yes or no?”

“No,” Smith said. “They’re not the same size as the Calgary Tower.”

The visual impact of wind turbines is determined by partisan bias, I’ll suggest.

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If we love solar and wind power, we see them as gorgeous icons of a green future. If we see them as unnecessary suppliers of costly and unreliable power and as giant bird, bat and insect killers, we find them unsightly.

In the end, the aesthetics of wind turbines isn’t going to move the needle much in the carbon tax debate, save for in impacted rural communities.

But that more than double the price of the carbon tax compared to natural gas? That’s sticky. That impacts everyone. And it’s going to keep bothering almost every one of us every time we pay our monthly gas bill.

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