Council delivers recommendations for Canada’s energy transition, including “cleaner oil and gas”

Generation energy council reportThe federal government established a  Generation Energy consultation process in 2017, to inform an energy policy for a low-carbon future.  That process concluded when the appointed Generation Energy Council presented its Report  to Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources on June 28.  The report, titled Canada’s Energy Transition: Getting to our Energy Future, Together, identifies “four pathways that collectively will lead to the affordable, sustainable energy future”: waste less energy, switch to clean power, use more renewable fuels, and produce cleaner oil and gas.  The report outlines concrete actions, milestones for each of these pathways – most problemmatic of which is the pathway cleaner oil and gas.  Each pathway also includes a general statement re the “tools” required, giving passing mention to  “Skill and Talent Attraction and Development”.

The priorities for the “cleaner oil and gas” pathway include: “reducing emissions per unit of oil or natural gas produced; • improving the cost competitiveness of Canadian oil and gas; and • expanding the scope of value-added oil and gas products and services for both domestic and export markets.”  The report lauds the potential of Carbon Capture Use and Storage (CCUS), as well as the economic value of the petrochemical industry. Amongst  the milestones in this pathway: “By 2025, reduce methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels, with ongoing improvements thereafter.. …By 2030, reduce life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions for oil sands extraction to levels lower than competing crudes in global markets…Develop a trusted and effective regulatory system, including a life-cycle approach to greenhouse gas emissions, as measured by objective third party assessment of key attributes relative to competing jurisdictions…  By 2030, a more diversified mix of oil and gas products, services and solutions to domestic and global markets has a measurably significant impact on industry and government revenues.”

The Council was co-chaired by Merran Smith (Clean Energy Canada and Simon Fraser University)  and Linda Coady (Enbridge Canada); members are listed here . The Council heard from over 380,000 Canadians in an online discussion forum and in person. An impressive archive of submissions and commissioned studies, some previously published and some unique, is available here . Authors include government departments, academics, business and industry associations, and think tanks.

First Nations communities trading dirty diesel for renewable energy

First Nations’ commitment to renewable energy is described in Growing Indigenous Power: A Review of Indigenous Involvement and Resources to further Renewable Energy Development across Canada  released in February 2018 by  TREC Renewable Energy Co-operative. The report highlights examples of renewable energy projects, describes the potential benefits for  communities,  and outlines supportive policies and programs in each province. In the section on workforce issues, the report states:  “Whether a community is partnering with a developer and/or hiring a construction firm for their own project, it is important to insist, in writing, on a certain number of employment positions. After working with a developer on a wind project, Millbrook and Eskasoni First Nations (Nova Scotia) developed a database of skilled community members and had them join the union, to address employment issues.” The report contains a unique bibliography of articles and reports from lesser-known Indigenous and local sources.

The National Observer publishes frequent updates on the issue of First Nations and renewable energy  in British Columbia, which they have compiled into a Special Report titled First Nations Forward. Highlights from the series include “First Nations powering up B.C.” (Dec. 2017), and most recently,  “In brighter news, a clean energy success story:   Skidegate on the way to becoming a “city of the future”   (April 9). Also in British Columbia, the Upper Nicola Band  in the southern Interior will vote in April on a proposal to build a solar farm project  which, if approved, will be 15 times larger than the current largest solar farm in British Columbia ( a converted mine site at Kimberley ) .  CBC profiled the proposed new project in March. DeSmog Canada also profiled the Upper Nicola Project, and in November 2017 published “This B.C. First Nation is harnessing small-scale hydro to get off diesel.”

How green energy is changing one Alberta First Nation”  in the Toronto Star (April 10)  profiles a solar project at Louis Bull First Nation, south of Edmonton. It  was initiated under the  Alberta Indigenous Solar Program , one of several provincial grant programs to encourage renewable energy and energy efficiency amongst First Nations.  On  April 5, Alberta’s Renewable Electricity Program was announced – a  3-phase program which the government claims will attract approximately $10 billion in new private investment.  By 2030, it is also expected to create about 7,000 jobs in a wide range of fields, including construction, electrical and mechanical engineering, project management, as well as jobs for IT specialists, field technicians, electricians and mechanics. Phase 2 will include a competition for renewable energy projects  which are at least 25% owned by First Nations.

On March 22, the Ontario government announced :  “The federal and Ontario governments are partnering with 22 First Nations to provide funding for Wataynikaneyap Power to connect 16 remote First Nations communities in Northern Ontario to the provincial power grid…..When complete in 2023, the Wataynikaneyap Power Grid Connection Project will be the largest Indigenous-led and Indigenous-owned infrastructure project in Ontario history. It will mean thousands of people will no longer have to rely on dirty diesel fuel to meet their energy needs.”  The Wataynikaneyap Power website offers a series of press releases that chronicle the years-long development of this initiative, in partnership with FortisOntario . The most recent press release on March 22 states that the goal is to establish “a viable transmission business to be eventually owned and operated 100% by First Nations. In addition to the significant savings associated with the avoided cost of diesel generation, the Project is estimated to create 769 jobs during construction and nearly $900 million in socio-economic value.  These include lower greenhouse gas emissions (more than 6.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent GHG emissions are estimated to be avoided), as well as improved health of community members, and ongoing benefits from increased economic growth.”  Also of interest, a 2017 press release from FortisOntario : “Over $2 Million Announced For Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project First Nations Training Program .”

 

Review of Australia’s Electricity future seeks political compromise; unions see some hints of Just Transition

Flag_of_Australia.svgThe Final Report of the Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market  was submitted to the Australian government  by  its Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, on June 9 – the government press release is here  . Given that Australia currently obtains approximately two-thirds of its electricity from coal-fired generating units, it is controversial territory.  The Finkel Review seeks compromise ground: it doesn’t  recommend a return to Australia’s previous emissions trading scheme , nor a carbon tax – instead,  it recommends a “clean energy target”, where cleaner power generators would get financial rewards relative to the amount of CO2 emitted per megawatt hour.   In “Australia: New climate policy same old politics”, Climate Home states:  A “major review of Australian climate policy has been compromised by the malignant politics that has sent Australia to the back of the international pack”.  Even more critical is  “Alan Finkel’s emissions target breaks Australia’s Paris commitments”     in The Guardian (June 9), which states that the Finkel recommendations would result in emissions levels 28% below 2005 levels by 2030 for the electricity sector – less than needed, and less than called for in a 2016 report by the Climate Change Authority,  Policy options for Australia’s electricity supply sectorThe Guardian also published “Finkel review anticipates lower power prices, but weak electricity emissions target“, with detail of the recommendations and the political response.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) response to the Finkel report is muted, and focused less on the strength of the emission targets and more on the recommendations for an orderly transition of the sector, and a three year notice period before generator withdrawal. From the ACTU press release: “it is immediately clear that the report states the need for an orderly transition that includes workforce preparedness….The report also recommends a three year notice period before generator withdrawal, which would provide some notice for workers and communities.”  The ACTU has previously recommended the establishment of the Energy Transition Authority to navigate the transition to a clean energy economy.

 

Canadian government announces a phase-out of “traditional” coal-fired electricity by 2030

On November 21, the federal Environment Minister announced  that the four remaining provinces with coal-fired electricity  (Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia) must  speed up the their emissions reduction targets. All traditional coal-fired units (i.e. those without carbon capture and storage)  will be required to meet a performance standard of 420 tonnes of carbon dioxide per gigawatt hour by no later than 2030, and performance standards must be developed  for new units to ensure they are built using efficient technology.  Details are set out in a Backgrounder  .  To allow for flexibility, Equivalency Agreements can be negotiated under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act , and both Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are pursuing such agreements.  Nova Scotia, which announced  on November 21 that  it would  implement a cap and trade system which would  meet or exceed the federal emissions reduction target , will be allowed to continue to use coal in high-demand winter months even after 2030, (with no  specific date set yet for full compliance) .  Saskatchewan, which relies heavily on carbon capture and sequestration technology to meet its recent emissions reduction plan, is “displeased”  about the coal phase-out plan, according to a CBC report .  Alberta has already announced its own plans   for a coal phase-out by 2030, promising  support for workers and communities.  See the “Liberals present plan to phase out coal-powered electricity by 2030” CBC (Nov. 21) for a good overview.

 What does this mean for coal workers?  Currently, coal-fired power  generated at 35 plants represents over 70% of emissions in Canada’s electricity sector, but provides  only 11% of our  electricity.  The coal industry employs approximately 42,000 direct and indirect workers.   In “Canada’s rejection of coal will clear the air but impact workers and power bills” , the CBC (Nov. 22) examines the likely higher  electricity bills in store for consumers, and  the likely job losses.  The CBC article quotes Warren Mabee, a researcher with the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project and the associate director of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy: he states that many workers in coal mines will be laid off  “while others will shift to extracting metallurgical coal, which is used in the steel-making process.”  It is important to note that the government press release explicitly promises:“ The Government of Canada will work with provinces and labour organizations to ensure workers affected by the accelerated phase-out of traditional coal power are involved in a successful transition to the low-carbon economy of the future.”

Much of the government’s motivation for its initiative comes down to the health benefits of removing pollutants of coal-fired electricity – carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide, mercury and other heavy metals .  The Pembina Institute, along with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Canadian Public Health Association   and others, released   Out with the coal, In with the new: National benefits of an accelerated phase-out of coal-fired power  on November 21.  The report estimates that a  national coal phase-out by 2030 would prevent  1,008 premature deaths, 871 ER visits, and health outcomes valued at nearly $5 billion (including health and lower productivity costs) between 2015 and 2035.  The Pembina Institute reacted to the government announcement, calling it “timely” and “necessary .  Clean Energy Canada responded with  Quitting coal will drive clean growth and cut pollution.   BlueGreen Canada, which includes the United Steelworkers union, recently published the  Job Growth in Clean Energy report, which recognizes the world-wide decline of the coal industry, and states that, “if properly supported now, Alberta’s renewable energy sector will create enough jobs to absorb the coal labour force”.

Jobs in Canada’s Hydroelectric Industry

A May report by Prism Economics estimates that the hydroelectric sector contributed nearly US$31 billion to the country’s gross domestic product. Hydropower and the Canadian Economy: Jobs and Investment in Canada’s Largest Electricity Source also states that in 2013, “Canada’s hydropower industry’s investment and operations expenditures sustained an estimated 57,800 jobs (FTE) in Canada. When inter-industry purchases are factored in, the number of jobs rises to 100,000 jobs. In total, the investment and operations expenditures made by Canada’s hydroelectric power sector support over 135,400 (FTE) direct, indirect and induced jobs across Canada.”