Canada’s energy strategy fails on imagination and vision

by Felix von Geyer

If Canadians want an energy revolution, a psephological earthquake at the federal elections is the best place to start.

Indeed, Canada`s ten provincial and territorial premiers were unanimous in calling for more involvement from Ottawa`s federal government before concluding their two-day meeting Friday with the production of a 40-page document that outlined the approach for a new energy strategy. The strategy`s consultative process started in the tar sands province of Alberta in 2013.

The repetitive and brittle communication spin surrounding the protracted document reveals the reality that Canada’s energy future is seriously grounded in the past, offering an old value proposition that will fail to provide environmental or climatic security as it looks to invest C$650 billion over the next decade in building Canada`s energy future.

Three themes inform the premiers` strategy: sustainability and conservation; technology and innovation and delivering energy to people. In each area, the debate is almost a decade old if not more.

In Canada the conversation was most alive in 2007 around the Harper government`s Clean Air Act was taken to task by the Liberal opposition party and Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez introduced the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act – prompting Harper’s former Environment Minister John Baird to declare that implementing Kyoto would create the largest recession Canada had ever seen.

The energy strategy`s own statistical out-takes seek to sell the economic benefits of Canada`s existing energy infrastructure and the need for energy security and stability to provide economic growth, but instead reveal that less than one per cent of Canadians are directly employed by the industry.

Furthermore, it highlights that Canada is the world`s second largest producer of Uranium (mostly located in Saskatchewan) and and the paper is confusing in its promotion of the 73 per cent renewable (low or zero emissions) segment of Canada`s electricity. Hydroelectricity accounts for 63 per cent of Canada`s total electricity generation in one headline figure, where later the small print reveals the figure was 57 per cent in 2012.

But the devil himself must be starving in the lack of details proposed by the premiers’ energy strategy whose ten areas of focus include the need to promote energy efficiency and conservation and to transition to a lower carbon economy with no glimpse of a target. Normal palliatives to carbon pricing can be found in the absence of any vision of renewable energy targets and greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Canada`s pro-oil sands Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently submitted its Nationally Determined Commitment to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change to reduce the country`s greenhouse gas emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The government has no plan in place that would achieve this.

Again, details are scarce in mentioning the need for accelerated development and deployment of research and technology to achieve more efficient production and transmission outside of further talk about the long-awaited East-West Grid allowing provinces to transmit electricity to other provinces. Quebec could sell its hydro to Ontario, preventing the latter from having to develop extra nuclear capacity.

Facilitating development of green or renewable resources is another vague area of focus but the need to speed-up regulatory approval and market liberalisation receive greater mention in offering a proactive and stable framework.

In the build-up to the Premiers’ meeting, Saskatchewan’s Premier Brad Wall had publicly decried the demonization of Canada`s oil industry, claiming national benefits are derived through equalization payments distributed by Ottawa to poorer provinces.

The reality is far different. Oil and gas companies provide maybe one percent of Ottawa`s revenues. However, to place Wall`s words into perspective, Saskatchewan has the world`s highest GHG emissions per capita of any jurisdiction. At sixty tonnes of GHG emissions per head Saskatchewan outstrips Saudi Arabia’s 45 tonnes per capita.

Reliant on enhancing the oil recovery of its own end of life oil wells through carbon capture and storage to inject the CO2 into the wells to lift the oil, the province is also home to a portion of Canada`s tar sands. Saskatchewan is also a leading producer of uranium, an energy-intensive extraction process as well as the world’s largest producer of potash.

The Premiers meeting came at the same time as US scientists produced their annual report stating that the oceans would continue to warm for centuries as they are the main sink for absorbing anthropogenic CO2 emissions. It also came at the same time as reports leaked of a new double-walled pipeline owned by Nexen Inc spilled 5 million litres of oil sands crude in Alberta and a rail train carrying oil sands crude derailed in North-Eastern Montana.

In the meantime, new Albertan Premier Rachel Notley of the formerly left-wing New Democratic Party picked up where her Conservative predecessors have so far failed. Notley has asked Canadian Premiers to adopt the C$12 billion Energy East pipeline to carry oil sands crude from Alberta to the Eastern Maritime Province of Nova Scotia to be shipped to Europe. The European Union wants to become as energy independent as possible from Vladimir Putin`s Russia and hopes Eastern Canada can provide the shortfall with as much crude oil and LNG as possible. India is also a likely LNG customer.

So if Canada wants an energy future that is likely to deliver climate security and a stable environment on whose back its economy is drawn, its citizens will need to tell its policy-makers – and fast.


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