First Nations, Renewable Energy, and the benefits of community-owned energy projects

“These are exciting times in British Columbia for those interested in building sustainable, just and climate-friendly energy systems.” So begins the October 12 featured commentary, “BC First Nations are poised to lead the renewable energy transition”, published by the Corporate Mapping Project, a research project led by the University of Victoria, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (BC and Saskatchewan Offices) and Parkland Institute. The commentary summarizes the results of a survey conducted for the B.C. First Nations Clean Energy Working Group  by academics at the University of Victoria , published in April 2017 . The survey reveals that 98% of First Nations respondents were either interested in, or already participating in a renewable energy projects – 78 operational projects, 48 in the planning or construction phase, and 250 further projects under consideration in B.C. alone.  The responses reveal a growing interest in solar photovoltaic (PV), solar thermal, biomass and micro-hydro projects under development—compared to already-operational projects, 61% of which are run-of-river hydroelectricity. Survey respondents identified three primary barriers to their involvement in renewable energy projects: limited opportunities to sell power to the grid via BC Hydro – (mostly because of the proposed Site C hydro project), difficulties obtaining financing, and a lack of community readiness.

Although the discussion focuses specifically on B.C.’s  First Nations, the article holds up the model of community-level energy projects beyond First Nations : “Instead of proceeding with Site C, BC has an opportunity to produce what new power will be needed through a model of energy system development that takes advantage of emerging cost effective technologies and public ownership at a community scale. Doing so would enable an energy system that can be scaled up incrementally as demand projections increase. It would also ensure the benefits energy projects are channelled to communities impacted by their development, and help respond to past injustices of energy development in our province….Choosing this path would result in a more distributed energy system, more resilient and empowered communities, a more diverse economy and a more just path towards climate change mitigation.”

CBC reported on another survey of First Nations – this one at a national level –  in “Indigenous communities embracing clean energy, creating thousands of jobs” ( October 11). The article focuses on First Nations renewable energy projects on a commercial scale, stating: “nearly one fifth of the country’s power is provided by facilities fully or partly owned and run by Indigenous communities”. The article links to case studies and numerous previous articles on the topic, but focuses on the job creation impacts of clean energy: “15,300 direct jobs for Indigenous workers who have earned $842 million in employment income in the last eight years.”

The CBC article summarizes a survey conducted by Lumos Energy , a consultancy which specializes in energy solutions, especially renewable energy, “for First Nations, Métis and Inuit leaders and communities”. Lumos Energy  leads the Indigenous Clean Energy Network ; its principal, Chris Henderson, has written the book Aboriginal Power: Clean Energy and the Future of Canada’s First Peoples (2013).

Activists celebrate as the Energy East Pipeline is cancelled

energy east mapOn October 5, TransCanada Pipelines issued a press release , announcing that it would no longer proceed with the proposed Energy East pipeline and Eastern Mainline projects.  Accordingly, the National Energy Board Hearing Process has been closed, although documents remain on its website.  Below is some of the reaction that has poured forth, including: “TransCanada terminates Energy East pipeline” and  “Disappointment and delight mark the end of Energy East Pipeline”  in the National Observer (Oct. 5); “Climate Hawks celebrate as TransCanada abandons Energy East pipeline” from Energy Mix.   The Council of Canadians had conducted a 5-year campaign against Energy East: their reactions and those of their allies appear in “WIN! Energy East tar sands pipeline defeated!”  ;  “Voices from the Energy East Resistance”  (Oct. 6)  and “Diverse Groups Opposed to Energy East Celebrate Project’s Cancellation” .  The common message is exemplified by Grand Chief Serge Simon of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake on behalf of the 150 First Nations and Tribes who have signed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, who is quoted as saying: “Both the Northern Gateway fight and this Energy East one show that when First Nations stand together, supported by non-Indigenous allies, we win …. “So that’s two tar sands expanding mega-pipelines stopped in their tracks but it will be a hollow victory if either Kinder Morgan, Line 3 or Keystone XL are allowed to steamroll over Indigenous opposition and serve as an outlet for even more climate-killing tar sands production.”  (and for more on that, read “Energy East cancellation resonates for opponents of Trans Mountain expansion in B.C.”  in the National Observer.

Commentators trying to explain TransCanada’s decision focus on three principle reasons: the economics of falling oil prices, regional political forces, or the regulatory burden of pipeline approvals in Canada (especially since the Energy East review was  required to account for upstream and downstream emissions).  From the Globe and Mail, an editorial:  “The death of Energy East was a Business Decision – Swimming in Politics” , which attributes the decision to  Quebec opposition to Energy East, and the likely go-ahead of the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S.  The Editorial states: “Mr. Trump appears to have solved most of the Canadian oil industry’s pipeline shortage, making Energy East no longer economically necessary. The American President…. has also temporarily solved one of the Trudeau government’s, and Canada’s, most challenging political problems.” For a view of the political dimensions within Canada, read  “Energy East pipeline is dead, fallout in Alberta will be measurable” in Rabble (Oct. 6) . Finally, three overviews of the issues:”Regulations alone didn’t sink the Energy East pipeline” by Warren Mabee,Queen’s University and ACW Co-Investigator in The Conversation (Oct. 15);  “Five Things you need to know about the Cancellation of the Energy East Oilsands Pipeline” from DeSmog Canada, and “Energy East’s cause of death: Business, politics or climate?“, from CBC News, which describes the regional differences via reaction from Canadian provincial premiers.

 

Nova Scotia introduces Cap-and-Trade legislation

A press release on September 29  announced that the Nova Scotia government has introduced amendments to the Environment Act, enabling regulations to set caps on GHG emissions, distribute and enable trading of emission allowances within the province, and set a province-wide greenhouse gas emission target for 2030.  The province will create a Green Fund to support climate change initiatives and innovations, and  money from emissions sales and fines will be deposited there.  Next steps include “developing greenhouse gas reporting regulations this fall and consulting with stakeholders on them”.

The amending legislation, Bill 15, received first Reading in the Legislature on September 29 as a means to satisfy the requirement of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.   However, reaction from the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax urges the federal government to reject the plan, stating that “A carbon pricing system that doesn’t actually put a price on carbon, support low-income people, or incentivize clean growth truly misses the point.” The EAC also warns of the risks of extreme volatility since the plan is structured to create a carbon market within Nova Scotia alone – covering a population of under a million people and about 20 businesses.   The Ecology Action website has compiled documents and submissions from the provincial consultations leading up to this announcement. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Nova Scotia Office published a Backgrounder in May 2017 which outlines its proposals for a  stronger cap-and-trade policy.

A Roadmap for more energy efficient large buildings in Canada

Roadmap infographic

From http://www.cagbc.org/retrofitroadmap, the website of the Canada Green Building Council

The Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) has released  a new report which makes recommendations for retrofitting  large buildings as a means to achieving significant  reductions in  GHG emissions by 2030. The Roadmap for Retrofits in Canada  report  builds on a 2016 document by CaGBC, Building Solutions to Climate Change: How Green Buildings Can Help Meet Canada’s 2030 Emissions Targets .

The Roadmap  report begins with analysis of the carbon reduction potential of large buildings in Canada,  based on the factors of size, age, energy source, regional electrical grid, and building type. The analysis was conducted by Montreal consultancy WSP.  Some conclusions may seem obvious – for  example, despite its relatively clean energy grid, Ontario contributes  the greatest emissions from buildings because of the concentration of  large buildings  and the reliance on natural gas for heating and hot water. The level of detail of the analysis, however, reveals more surprising observations , for example: “In all provinces, the “other” asset class category represents the largest opportunity for carbon emissions reductions. This asset class includes warehouses, entertainment venues, leisure and recreation buildings, shopping centres, and colleges and universities.”

CaGBC’s Roadmap for Retrofits in Canada  presents its recommendations for action, clustered in 4 categories, ( in order of their magnitude of impact):

  1. Recommission buildings that have yet to achieve high performance status by optimizing existing building systems for improved control and operational performance;
  2. Undertake deep retrofits in buildings to high-performance standards such as LEED, focusing on energy reduction and ensuring that key building systems such as lighting, HVAC and envelopes are upgraded.  Most impact will come from deep retrofits in  buildings over 35 years old, and in buildings using electric resistance heating systems in regions with carbon-intensive electricity grids (Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia). Retail buildings are highlighted as an important sector .
  3. Switch to low carbon fuel sources in 20% of buildings over 35 years old in all regions; and
  4. Incorporate solar or other on-site renewable energy systems. The report states that this action would bring the highest carbon emissions reductions in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It would  also be most impactful for  buildings with large roof-to–floor space ratios, such as retail, education and institutional buildings.

The Roadmap report concludes with public policy recommendations for the building sector, including: Canada’s future retrofit code should include a GHG metric along with energy thresholds; each province should develop its own unique roadmap for retrofits, to target areas where investments can yield the highest economic and environmental benefits; and the federal  Low Carbon Economy Fund and future public funding programs should make use of a “roadmap” model.  The federal government is expected to announce policy measures this Fall – see “Federal Government eyes energy retrofits in buildings” in the Globe and Mail. For an excellent summary of the Roadmap report, see “Deep retrofits, ‘recommissioning’ could meet climate targets on their own” (Sept. 22) from  the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) .

In related news, on September 14,  New York Mayor De Blasio proposed what he characterized as a pioneering plan to force landlords to retrofit older, larger commercial and institutional buildings in NYC.   “De Blasio Vows to Cut Emissions in New York’s Larger Buildings”  in the New York Times (Sept. 14) states that  the proposals are only sketched out and are just beginning to search for political allies.  An article in Inside Climate News summarizes the issue of energy efficiency building codes in the U.S., and briefly describes initiatives in the cities of New York, Seattle, Dallas, and Washington, D.C.

 

Business think tank calls for Low-carbon policies for Canada

The Conference Board of Canada acknowledged that Canada must institute a carbon tax and decarbonize its electricity system in its September report, The Cost of a Cleaner Future: Examining the Economic Impacts of Reducing GHG Emissions (free, registration required).  The report presents a range of economic scenarios, relying on modelling from the Trottier Energy Futures project, and focusing on three issues:  carbon pricing; eliminating oil and natural gas from electricity generation; and the investment of trillions of dollars in green technology. On the impact of carbon pricing, one scenario assumes a carbon tax of $80 per tonne in 2025, yielding an average annual cost to Canadian household of approximately $2,000, shrinking the economy by only 1.8%, and cutting employment by 0.1%.  The total economic impact is forecast to be small, assuming that carbon tax revenues are reinvested in the economy in the form of corporate and personal income tax cuts and additional public spending on infrastructure. Industries most likely to suffer from reduced competitiveness are chemicals, mining and smelting, and pulp and paper; and  “industries with a domestic focus and sensitivity to price changes, such as residential construction, will be hard hit”.

Negative press coverage of the report appeared in  “Carbon tax to shrink economy by $3 billion, hurt loonie, study warns” in the Financial Post. The Globe and Mail was more optimistic, with “Canada urged to bite the bullet on shift to low carbon economy” and an OpEd “Can Canada remain an energy superpower?”.   In the OpEd , Glenn  Hodgson of the Conference Board recommends public policy support for a low-carbon energy strategy so that Canada can become North America’s most efficient, low-carbon source of oil and gas, while building up the country’s expertise in a range of other energy services, including carbon capture and storage, nuclear, and energy storage technologies. Such an outlook coincides with two other Conference Board publications over the summer: Clean Trade: Global Opportunities in Climate-Friendly Technologies  and Canadian Green Trade and Value Chains: Defining the Opportunities (both free with registration).  These new reports are the product of the new  Low-Carbon Growth Economy Centre at the Conference Board of Canada.