Green Jobs Oshawa still fighting for GM plant conversion; EV investment goes to Detroit-Hamtramck plant

green jobs oshawa logoAn article by former CAW Research Director Sam Gindin appeared in The Socialist Project newsletter The Bullet on Feb. 3.  “Realizing ‘Just Transitions’: The Struggle for Plant Conversion at GM Oshawa” describes the ongoing work of Green Jobs Oshawa to fight back against the closure of the GM Oshawa plant with a proposal to convert the plant to  electric vehicle manufacture. Green Jobs Oshawa commissioned an economic study in 2019, The Triple Bottom Line Feasibility Study  which estimated that the plant conversion could create 13,000 jobs with modest government investment and a worker ownership model. Gindin’s new article seeks to explain why the Green Jobs Oshawa campaign hasn’t succeeded yet, and suggests new thinking and new roles for workers, Unifor at the local and national level, the Candian Labour Congress, and the government. (A related, good-news article, “The man of wind, water and sun” in Corporate Knights  (Jan. 16) profiles Toronto lawyer Brian Iler and describes his efforts, along with the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation  to retool GM Oshawa. Iler is described as “the creative legal mind behind a host of cutting-edge renewable energy projects, social ventures and co-ops that have challenged received wisdom.” )

General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck AssemblyIn the meantime, on January 27, General Motors announced “Detroit-Hamtramck to be GM’s First Assembly Plant 100 Percent Devoted to Electric Vehicles” , promising creation of 2,200 jobs.  Production of an all-electric pick-up truck will start as soon as late 2021, to be followed by an all-electric Cruise Origin self-driving shuttle, and an electric Hummer.  Like Oshawa GM, the Detroit Hamtramck plant had been slated for closure, but the corporate press release states that GM will invest $2.2 billion in the U.S. plant and an additional $800 million in supplier tooling and other projects. Encouraged by favourable tax treatment by the state, GM has committed more than $2.5 billion toward electric vehicle manufacturing in Michigan since Fall 2018 –  recent news of GM’s corporate push to electric vehicles appears in The Detroit Free Press in  “GM bids to buy land for a new battery factory in Lordstown” (Jan. 15) ; “GM commits to $2.2 billion investment and 2,200 jobs at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly ” (Jan. 27) and in the New York Times, “G.M. Making Detroit Plant a Hub of Electric and A.V. Efforts” (Jan. 27).

Canadians are trying to find a silver lining, as reported by the Windsor Star newspaper in  “GM’s first all-electric vehicle plant in Detroit will have Canadian spillover benefits” . The article quotes the president of Canada’s Automobile Parts Manufacturing Association: “if GM meets the volume expectations of the vehicles in the Hamtramck re-launch, Southwestern Ontario suppliers may pull in up to 30 per cent of the content opportunities that will arise.”

B.C. Building Step Code credited with the province’s top rank in Canada for energy efficiency

energy efficiency scorecardWith a view to encouraging cooperation amongst provinces, Efficiency Canada launched  Canada’s  first-ever Provincial Energy Efficiency Scorecard  on November 19,  accompanied by an interactive database  which is promised to be updated regularly.   The full Scorecard report is a free download from this link   (registration required). Provinces were scored out of 100 for their energy efficiency programs, enabling policies, building, transportation, and industry, between January 2018 and June 2019.   British Columbia ranks #1 (56 points), followed by  Quebec (48), Ontario (47)  and Nova Scotia (45). Saskatchewan was last with only 18 out of 100 possible points. But beyond the gross numbers and overview comparisons,  the report, at 190 pages,  provides a wealth of detail  and policy information provided about  best practices and achievements in each jurisdiction – especially about electrification, electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, and building policies and codes.

Two of the study co-authors, Brendan Haley and James Gaede, have written  “Canadians can unite behind energy efficiency” published in Policy Options , providing context and highlights.

A proposal to convert GM Oshawa to electric vehicle production under public and worker ownership

gm oshawaTriple Bottom Line Preliminary Feasibility Study of the GM Oshawa Facility: Possibilities for Sustainable Community Wealth was released in September 2019 by Green Jobs Oshawa  – a coalition of workers, community leaders, environmentalists, labour and social justice advocates whose goal is to  re-purpose the soon-to-be-shuttered GM Oshawa auto assembly plant “for socially beneficial manufacturing.”

The call to convert GM Oshawa to electric vehicle production has been made before – notably by Sam Gindin, as part of a Lucas Plan-style conversion, and by journalist Linda McQuaig, most recently in her new book The Sport & Prey of Capitalists . But the new Triple Bottom Line feasibility study fleshes out these goals with facts and figures: it  estimates that a  public investment of $1.4 to $1.9 billion would be required to acquire and retool the Oshawa assembly plant for Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) production, which, when supported by government procurement of the vehicles, would result in financial break-even by year 4, and create over 13,000 jobs (up to 2,900 jobs in parts supply and manufacturing) and over 10,000 multiplier jobs.

The Triple Bottom Line study was written by Russ Christianson,  a consultant and active proponent of worker cooperatives. He uses “a triple bottom line evaluation”, including: 1. an economic analysis of the current and future auto industry market, capital investment required, skills and equipment available at the GM facility and in the community, and the potential new products that could be manufactured. 2. Social needs in the Oshawa community for well-paid, dignified work , and 3. “How production at the plant can address the defining issue of our times, climate catastrophe”.

Some Highlights from the report: 

“By paying a good wage to auto workers – this study proposes the existing GM Oshawa tier 1 wage of $35 per hour for assembly workers – it will be possible to gain the workers’ commitment by investing in their jobs through shared-ownership of the new organization.”

“Governments will need to negotiate alongside the workers and community to gain public ownership of the GM Oshawa plant. The financial forecasts include a start-up investment of $10,000 from each of the workers combined with community investment for a total of $37.5 million in Scenario 1, and Scenario 2 estimates $25 million in investment from workers and the community.”

“By the end of year 5, the forecasts show that BEVs will represent 30 to 40 percent of these governments’ total fleets, except for Canada Post, which (like the U.S. Postal Service) is expected to replace the majority of their delivery fleet vehicles with BEVs.”

The CBC reported on the launch of the feasibility study on September 21 in “Autoworkers at GM’s Oshawa plant ask feds for more than $1B to build electric vehicles”  and included commentary from supporters and detractors.  In support, the article quotes from an email by Olivier Trescases, head of the University of Toronto’s Electric Vehicle Research Centre,  which stated: “I think that aiming for government owned EV fleets and electrified public transportation is strategically very important and more logical than trying to produce passenger cars though a Crown corporation.”

International clean energy experts discuss investment levels, zero emissions vehicles, building emissions, gender equality in Vancouver meetings

CEM10-MI4_LogoIn the week of May 27, representatives from global government, industry, and NGO’s met as Canada hosted the 10th Clean Energy Ministerial in Vancouver. Several announcements were made against that backdrop:

Investment support for clean energy: The federal government announced it will contribute up to $30 million to Breakthrough Energy Solutions Canada (BESC),  a public-private initiative to support “cutting-edge companies to deliver game-changing clean energy innovations to the market.” This Canadian program will be administered by Natural Resources Canada – in collaboration with Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $1 billion investment fund launched in 2016 by billionaires such as Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg.  The Canadian press release quotes Gates: “ We are hopeful that this Breakthrough Energy partnership with Canada will be a model for developing more collaborations…” A summary appears in “Canada launches homegrown version of Bill Gates-led clean energy fund”   in the National Observer (May 27).

The National Observer hosted a panel discussion on clean energy investment on May 28. The panel included the Vice-President of the European Investment Bank, the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, and Céline Bak, president of Analytica Advisors and author of the 2019 report,  Leveraging Sustainable Finance Leadership in CanadaA summary and video of the panel’s discussion is hereThe discussion revealed that, unbeknownst to Canada, the  European Commission and the European Investment Bank  have also reached agreement with Breakthrough Energy Ventures on a new €100 million fund to support clean energy investments – described in a May 29 press release.

Clean energy investment trends are worrying, as reported by the International Energy Agency in  World Energy Investment 2019 (May 14) : “Global energy investment stabilised in 2018, ending three consecutive years of decline, as capital spending on oil, gas and coal supply bounced back while investment stalled for energy efficiency and renewables.”  In May,  BankTrack and others published  Fool’s Gold – the Financial Institutions Bankrolling Europe’s Most Coal-dependent Utilities , naming the financial institutions behind almost €16 billion in support to the coal industry since the Paris Agreement was signed in December 2015.

electric truckZero emissions  vehicles: The International Energy Agency released the 2019 edition of one of their flagship publications, Global EV Outlook, which provides historical analysis, projections to 2030, and insights on electric vehicle and charging infrastructure deployment, ownership cost, energy use, carbon dioxide emissions and battery material demand. As part of the discussions on electrification of transportation at the CEM10, Canada became the first national government to endorse the Global Commercial Vehicle Drive to Zero (Drive to Zero) campaign, with British Columbia and the City of Vancouver also signing on . A press release explains “Drive to Zero is a strategic international initiative designed to catalyze the growth of the zero-emission (ZE) and near-zero-emission (NZ) medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sector (MHDV), which includes everything from transit buses to eighteen wheelers to box trucks to school buses. Pledge partners promise to collaboratively put in place supporting mechanisms to speed the early market for these vehicles and equipment.”  Drive to Zero is a program of CALSTART,  a nonprofit consortium with offices in New York, Michigan, Colorado and California, and international partners which include Clean Energy Canada.  As Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources stated in the press release, this is in line with Canadian priorities: the Final Report of the Advisory Council on Climate Action  ( May 28) recommends policies concerning zero-emissions vehicles, including “The Government of Canada, working with partners and stakeholders, should develop an integrated strategy to reduce emissions across modes of transportation, including actions to support modal shifts.”  Related: on May 2, the Pembina Institute published Fuel Savings and Emissions Reductions in Heavy-Duty Trucking : A blueprint for further action in Canada  . 

Gender Equality in Clean Tech:  Over 100 organizations have now signed onto the Equal by 30 initiative, an international campaign begun in 2018. It “ encourages companies and government to adopt gender-equal principles, advance the participation of women in the clean energy transition and take concrete actions to support women in the sector.” A summary of the Gender Diversity participants and events is here . 

Hydrogen as a source of clean energy: A new “Hydrogen Initiative was announced  under the leadership of Canada, the United States, Japan, the Netherlands and the European Commission, with the International Energy Agency as co-ordinating body. The initiative is intended to drive international collaboration on policies, programs and projects to accelerate the commercial deployment of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies across all sectors of the economy, especially industrial and transportation applications.

Building efficiency: Heating and cooling strategies in the clean energy transition: Outlooks and lessons from Canada’s provinces and territories is a report released at the Clean Energy Ministerial meetings on May 27. It is the result of collaborative research between the International Energy Agency and the National Energy Board of Canada. Using Canadian provincial data, it examines energy demand patterns and energy policies regarding  heating and cooling services in buildings, urging policies to move from natural gas to existing, cleaner technologies.  The National Observer summarizes the report in “Cutting fossil fuels could save Canadians  $24 billion a year by 2050”  .

Amnesty International campaign calls for better mining, manufacture, and disposal of electric vehicle batteries

golf electricWhile the Nordic EV Summit   in March 2019 showcased progress on the adoption of electric vehicles, Amnesty International used that backdrop to  issue a challenge to leaders in the electric vehicle industry –  to produce the world’s first completely ethical battery, free of human rights abuses within its supply chain, within five years.

It is not news that the mining of  cobalt and lithium, the two key minerals in batteries, has been linked to human rights abuses, environmental pollution, ecosystem destruction and indigenous rights violations.   Amnesty was amongst the first to document the child labour and human rights abuses with a report This is what we die for   in 2016,  updated in  2017 by an article,  “The Dark Side of Electric Cars: Exploitative Labor Practices”.  More recently, “Indigenous people’s livelihoods at risk in scramble for lithium, the new white goldappeared in The Ethical Corporation  (April 9), describing the human rights situation in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, which hold 60% of the world’s lithium reserves. The environmental impacts of deep-sea mining are also of concern.

In addition to the mining of raw materials, battery manufacturing has a high carbon footprint, with most of the current manufacturing concentrated in China, South Korea and Japan, where electricity generation remains dependent on coal and other polluting sources of power.

Finally, the issue of electronic waste, including batteries, has been the subject of several  reports:  From  the International Labour Organization :  in 2012,  Global Impact of E-waste: Addressing the Challenge and more recently,  Decent work in the management of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) , an Issues paper produced for a Global Dialogue Forum on Decent Work in the Management of Electrical and Electronic Waste in April 2019.  The 2019  report provides estimates of the workforce involved in some countries – led by China, with an estimated 690,000 workers in 2007, followed by up to 100,000 in Nigeria , followed by 60,000 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  The report deals mainly with occupational health and safety issues and includes an overview of international  e-waste regulation, as well as case studies of  the U.S., Argentina, China, India, Japan, Nigeria.  Similar discussions appear in  A New Circular Vision for Electronics Time for a Global Reboot , released by the E-waste Coalition at the 2019 World Economic Forum, and in a blog, Dead Batteries deserve a Second Life published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development on April 9.evcobalt-lithium-V2_1-supply-chain

Clearly, there are labour and environmental problems related to lithium-ion batteries and the green vehicles and electronic devices they power.  Recognizing  all these concerns, the new Amnesty International campaign is calling for:  improvement in human rights practices in mining, and  a prohibition on commercial deep-sea mining; disclosure and accounting for carbon in manufacturing, and for legal protection and enforcement of workplace rights such as health, equality and non-discrimination; finally for products to be designed and regulated to encourage re-use and penalize waste, with prevention of  illegal or dangerous export and dumping of batteries.