Green Hydrogen in Canada – Alberta sets a goal of 2040 for exports

Clean Energy Canada released a new report on hydrogen as a clean energy source, providing a history of policy and development in Canada and around the world, and a call to action.  A New Hope states that “.. Canada is among a small group of countries with the highest potential for exporting clean hydrogen, thanks to a clean power system (82% of Canada’s electricity grid is already non-emitting) and plenty of access to water (required for electrolysis). But the time to act is now. Already, 18 economies comprising more than 75% of global GDP are developing and rolling out hydrogen strategies. Some, like the EU and South Korea, have dedicated post-pandemic recovery funds to make it happen. …. Germany’s priming of the hydrogen market with a €9-billion ($13.7-billion) strategy could lead to a snowballing competitive market—and increasingly cheaper clean hydrogen.”  The EU Hydrogen Strategy for a climate neutral Europe was released in July 2020.

Green, Blue or Grey? Colour-coded hydrogen holds keys to Canada’s energy transition” appeared in The National Observer in August, and gives an excellent overview of the policy landscape for hydrogen in Canada – the perspective of the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association and the Canadian government, which has promised a Hydrogen Strategy – but no date is set. The article cites a very thorough consultant’s report circulating amongst government officials: 2019 Hydrogen Pathways : Enabling a Clean Growth Future for Canadians .

The Pembina Institute had also published Hydrogen on the path to net-zero emissions Costs and climate benefits (July), a 6-page overview of  the terminology (blue, green or grey hydrogen?),  the production process, transportation and storage, and its many possible applications across industry, transportation, power and buildings sectors.

Alberta seems to be heeding the call:  in September, the Alberta Industrial Heartland Hydrogen Task force released Towards Net-Zero Energy Systems In Canada: A Key Role For Hydrogen, and on October 6, the Alberta government released its Natural Gas Vision and Strategy, part of its Recovery Plan for petrochemicals, LNG production ,  plastics recycling, and hydrogen.   Along with the October 6 press release, the Plan states “…. Alberta is already a leader in hydrogen production and has strong carbon capture and storage infrastructure in place. Combined with a number of projects being built across the province, Alberta has the potential to be a strong global competitor through the creation of a hydrogen economy.”  The goals stated in the Plan: 1. “Large-scale hydrogen production with carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) and deployment in various commercial applications across the provincial economy by 2030; and 2.  Exports of clean hydrogen and hydrogen-derived products to jurisdictions across Canada, North America, and globally are in place by 2040.”

Total, Exxon announce stranded assets but some Canadians aren’t listening

Just as the long-predicted weather disasters are coming to pass before our eyes, so too are the stranded assets of the oil and gas industry.  In July, French fossil fuel multinational Total announced  “asset impairment charges” caused by low oil prices, and “in line with its new Climate Ambition announced on May 5, 2020 , which aims at carbon neutrality, Total has reviewed its oil assets that can be qualified as “stranded”, meaning with reserves beyond 20 years and high production costs, whose overall reserves may therefore not be produced by 2050. The only projects identified in this category are the Canadian oil sands projects Fort Hills and Surmont.” Total also cancelled its membership in the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) , as had Teck Resources in May 2020 as part of the cost-cutting which saw it withdraw from the Frontier mine project in February.

As reported by Bloomberg News on August 5, a regulatory filing to the SEC by Exxon announced that low energy prices render as much as 20% of its oil and natural gas reserves as stranded assets, without book value. The  massive Kearl oil-sands mine near Fort McMurray Alberta was the only operation specifically named in Exxon’s filing, and a separate filing of Exxon subsidiary Imperial Oil Ltd also singled out Kearl’s reserves as “imperiled”.

The Energy Mix summarized and commented on these developments in “Colossal fossil Total declares $9.3b in stranded assets in Alberta tar sands/oil sands” (July 31) and “Exxon rips up $30 Billion rebuilding plan, could declare stranded assets at Kearl Lake” (Aug. 19).   

A different future?

In sharp contrast to the companies’ announcements: the Alberta office of Price Waterhouse has posted a rosy consultants’ view in a series titled: Energy Visions 2020: What’s ahead for Canada’s oil and gas industry . Part 1, “The Evolving Role of oil and gas in the Energy Transition” acknowledges the current low demand, but hones to that persistent industry view: “Given the cyclical nature of the industry, we anticipate that within five years we’ll have moved into a period of recovery and growth. By then the current oversupply will likely have been drained.”  PWC’s prescription for Canadian oil and gas producers: “to differentiate themselves from global competitors, they’ll have to continue to focus on important differentiators aligned with environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) measures… Canadian oil and gas companies are already global leaders on some ESG principles. These include demonstrating high employee health-and-safety standards, a record for empowering and investing in the communities in which they operate, support for reasonable government carbon pricing and a commitment to new technologies to reduce emissions. But the challenge remains around how our industry communicates this story to investors.”

Part 2, “Finding Opportunity for Canada in the Global Energy Transition”  states: “Canadian energy companies have the opportunity to proactively address climate issues, take advantage of new opportunities where possible and find ways to create additional value for their communities, employees and shareholders.… We can and must raise our profile by highlighting all the positive achievements we’ve made in producing our energy more efficiently by using new technologies…”. Post Covid, “there may be opportunities for those companies that have the desire and balance-sheet strength to pursue new capital-intensive energy investments. Companies for which diversification isn’t an option must stay focused on their core business and continue to execute more efficiently, digitally and diversely than any global competitor……..We can expect that federal government support for all industries will come in some form of infrastructure investment, and the adoption of alternative energies will likely be part of the government’s infrastructure agenda.“

Finally, Part 3, “New World, New Skills: Preparing your workforce for the Energy Transition” discusses “The Transformation Imperative”, but focuses on automation and artificial intelligence as the disruptors. The report offers the general advice that employers need to create an “upskilling” organizational culture for their employees, while acknowledging that millennials rank the oil and gas as their least attractive career destination.   

Alberta Pension fund invests in Coastal GasLink pipeline, the latest risky fossil fuel investment

Carbon Tracker, the group which originated the term “stranded assets, published two new reports about the financial risks of fossil fuel investment in June:  It’s Closing Time: The Huge Bill to Abandon Oilfields Comes Early  and Decline and Fall: The Size & Vulnerability of the Fossil Fuel System on June 4 .  Banking giant Goldman Sachs also released a new report, Carbonomics: The Future of Energy in the age of climate change , which sees a fundamental shift from fossils to renewable energy investments.

Yet even as the drumbeat of fossil fuel decline continues, the public sector pension funds of Alberta and South Korea purchased a majority ownership stake in the Coastal GasLink pipeline from TC Energy on May 25,  using  the  retirement savings of millions of individuals.  “Alberta and South Korea’s pensions just bought the Coastal GasLink pipeline: 8 things you need to know” in The Narwhal (June 10) analyses the situation and cites a report from Progress Alberta :  Alberta’s Failed Oil and Gas Bailout , with this subtitle provided: “How AIMCO invested more than a billion dollars of pensioners and Albertans money into risky oil and gas companies with more than $3 billion in environmental liabilities and how the people running those companies got rich through huge salaries, share buybacks, dividends and conservative political connections.” Besides exposing the political shadows and environmental liabilities of many AimCo energy investments, the report makes recommendations, including for a public review of the investment performance and governance of Aimco; to divest from risky fossil fuel investments; to allow pension plans whose funds are being managed by AIMCo to appoint representatives to its board ; and to allow pension funds the freedom to leave AIMCo.

The recommended reforms are necessary because of the changes made by the Kenney government in November 2019,  described by WCR here and by Alberta unions in:  Union leaders tell UCP: ‘The money saved by Albertans for retirement belongs to them, not to you!’    Alberta’s Failed Oil and Gas Bailout   report urges: “The mismanagement of pensions and the Heritage Fund today offers opportunities for unions, political parties, civil society groups and organizers to engage and activate people who otherwise might never get involved in political collective action. People’s retirements and Alberta’s savings fund from its fossil fuel wealth are at stake.”

Pembina proposes a low-carbon blueprint to create 67,2000 jobs in Alberta

alberta emerging economyA report released on June 15 calculates  that, with supportive government policies, 67,200  jobs could be created in Alberta by 2030 in four key areas: renewable electricity; transit and electric vehicle infrastructure; energy efficiency in buildings and industry; and environmental cleanup and methane reduction in the oil and gas industry.  Alberta’s Emerging Economy: A blueprint for job creation through 2030  was funded by the Alberta Federation of Labour  and written by researchers at the Pembina Institute.  It provides detailed data for each of the four sectors, along with well-informed policy discussion. Notably, the number of jobs forecast represents a significant diversification of the labour market for the province: 67,200 jobs is equal to 67% of the total workforce of the mining, and oil and gas extraction industry in 2019.

Alberta’s Hydrogen initiative

Alberta’s Emerging Economy does not consider the potential jobs from new technologies such as carbon capture and storage, or hydrogen production.  Fundamental to understanding that technology is the difference between “grey hydrogen”,  “blue” hydrogen and “green” hydrogen”- explained by an expert at the International Energy Agency here , or in Green Tech Media in “The Reality Behind Green Hydrogen’s Soaring Hype”.

On May 14, the Alberta Industrial Heartland Hydrogen Task Force was launched as “an independent working group created to develop a framework to implement a hydrogen economy in the region” and “produce a public report detailing the approach and steps needed to advance a zero-emission fuel economy in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland.” The Task Force includes local mayors from Alberta and Saskatchewan (including  Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson). The full list of Task Force members and advisors is here , and is organized by Transition Accelerator – itself launched in 2019, by the University of Calgary research group CESAR.  A recent report in their  “The Future of Freight” series, Implications for Alberta of Alternatives for Diesel  advocates for “blue hydrogen” production (hydrogen made from natural gas by steam-methane reforming (SMR) coupled to carbon capture and storage (CCS)).

Hydrogen production is described in the Globe and Mail on June 14, “Ottawa, Alberta develop new hydrogen strategies” .  An overview in Corporate Knights magazine on May 14  claims “Hydrogen can make Canada an energy superpower again”.  It concludes:

We live in Alberta, so know the danger in including the words ‘national’ and ‘energy’ in the same sentence. But picture a Canada where hydrogen is the focus of a pan-Canadian strategy that would have all provinces working together for a net-zero emission energy future that revitalizes our economy and again positions Canada as an energy superpower.

 

Alberta dissolves Energy Efficiency agency, weakens oil and gas approval process

Bill 22, The Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act  passed first reading in the Alberta legislature on June 11.  The latest in Alberta’s environmental roll-backs, Bill 22 is a 14-point omnibus bill which eliminates the need for cabinet approval for oil and gas projects, and dissolves the Energy Efficiency Alberta agency, begun in 2017. Alberta’s Environment Minister has said it  will be wound down by September and most staff re-assigned to the Emissions Reduction Alberta agency, which focuses on large-scale industry such as the oil and gas industry.  The changes are summarized in  an article in in The Energy Mix (June 14) and  in The Globe and Mail .   Efficiency Canada reacted with a critical press release on June 12, titled Alberta cuts successful job-creation engine in the midst of recession” which asserts that Energy Efficiency Alberta  created more than 4,300 private-sector jobs between 2017 and 2019”.  The Pembina Institute reaction also cites the job losses which will come from the decision, and states: “This move reinforces the negative image that the Government of Alberta was attempting to change when the EEA was installed as a major pillar of Alberta’s climate plan.”

The government justifies its decision in a blog  which doesn’t mention the job creation success of the agency.