Saskatchewan’s new Climate Strategy maintains old positions: No to carbon tax, yes to Carbon Capture and Storage

Prairie Resilience: A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy was released by the government of Saskatchewan on December 4,  maintaining the province’s  position outside the Pan-Canadian Framework  agreement  with this introductory statement:    “A federal carbon tax is ineffective and will impair Saskatchewan’s ability to respond to climate change.”  A summary of all the strategy commitments appears as  a “Backgrounder” from this link.  An Opinion column in the Regina Leader Post newspaper summarizes it as  a “repackaging” of past policies, and “oil over the environment”.

The provincial government defends their plan as “broader and bolder than a single policy such as a carbon tax and will achieve better and more meaningful outcomes over the long term” by encouraging innovation and investment – and yes, that Prairie spirit of independent resilience.  The strategy includes provisions re protecting communities through physical infrastructure investment,  water system management, energy efficiency for buildings and freight, and disaster management.   It commits to “maintain and enhance partnerships with First Nations and Métis communities to address and adapt to a changing climate through actions that are guided by traditional ecological knowledge.”   In the electricity sector, which at 19% is the third largest source of emissions, it proposes  to introduce regulations governing emissions from electricity generation by SaskPower and Independent Power Producers; meet a previous commitment of up to 50 per cent electricity capacity from renewables; and “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.”    The Strategy is still open to consultation on the regulatory standards and implementation details, with a goal of implementation on January 1, 2019.  Consultation is likely to reflect the state of public opinion on climate change issues as revealed by the Corporate Mapping Project  in Climate Politics in the Patch: Engaging Saskatchewan’s Oil-Producing Communities on Climate Change Issues. The participants in that  study “were largely dismissive over concerns about climate change, were antagonistic towards people they understood as urban environmentalists and Eastern politicians, and believed that the oil industry was already a leader in terms of adopting environmentally sound practices.”      The oil and gas industry is Saskatchewan’s largest emitter, at 32% of emissions in 2015.

sask-power-boundary-damOn the issue of carbon capture and storage:  The Climate Strategy document released on December 4 states a commitment to:  “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.” On December 1, CBC reported that Saskatchewan had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming  to “share knowledge, policy and regulatory expertise in carbon dioxide capture, transportation, storage and applications such as enhanced oil recovery.”  By late 2017 or early 2018, SaskPower is required to make its recommendation on whether  two units at the Boundary Dam will be retired, or retrofitted to capture carbon and storage (CCS) by 2020.  As reported by the CBC , the research of economist Brett Dolter at the University of Regina has found  that conversion to natural gas power generation would cost about 16% of the cost of continuing with CCS ($2.7 billion to replace all remaining coal-fired plants with natural gas plants, compared to  $17 billion to retrofit all coal-fired plants with carbon capture and storage.)  The final decision will need to  consider the economic implications for approximately 1,100 Saskatchewan coal workers, and isn’t expected until a replacement for Premier Brad Wall  has been chosen after his retirement in late January 2018.

For more details:  “Saskatchewan, 3 U.S. states sign agreement on carbon capture, storage” at CBC News (Dec. 1) ; “SaskPower’s carbon capture future hangs in the balance” at CBC News (Nov 23)  , and  “Saskatchewan Faces Tough Decision on Costly Boundary Dam CCS Plant” in The Energy Mix (Nov. 28).

Climate change policy in B.C. must deal with controversies – Kinder Morgan, Site C, and more

Flag_of_British_Columbia.svgIn his November 30 article, “Where is B.C. headed on climate action?”, Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives begins with a bit of history – November 2017 marks the 10 year anniversary of the passage of  B.C.’s  Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act, followed by B.C.’s carbon tax, the first in North America, in 2008.  His overview then discusses climate change policy since the Liberal government and its Climate Leadership Team (CLT)  were replaced by the government of the New Democratic Party in Summer 2017.  Specific issues raised: the new government may still be considering the  development of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) on the north coast; an inadequate annual increase to the carbon tax of just $5 per tonne per year (instead of the $10 per tonne recommended by the CLT); the need for a public inquiry into fracking  (as called for by the CCPA and 16 other organizations); and the need for leadership on more stringent regulation of methane emissions.  The author concludes:  “The BC government’s opposition to Kinder-Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline expansion is laudable. But there is much left to be done on climate action in BC… We need an action plan commensurate with the urgency posed by climate change and the aspirations of leadership claimed by BC politicians.”

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B.C. Premier John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver announce their coalition in June 2017

Although Marc Lee has written about the controversial Site C Dam project previously, he doesn’t include it in this overview, although it is still very much a live issue.   Following the Report of the Independent Review of the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC)  on November 1, the government indicated it would decide by December 31 whether to proceed with the project or not.  On December 1, the B.C. Green Party, the government’s coalition partner, sent an Open Letter to the Premier, arguing for cancellation of Site C on the grounds that it is likely to continue to exceed budget, and that alternative sources of energy are now cheaper.  Questions about the job creation forecasts used to justify the original decision have also been raised – most relying on the latest analysis from the University of British Columbia Water Governance Institute. Their latest  full report  was released on November 23; a 2-page Briefing Note also released argues that terminating Site C and pursuing  the alternative scenario put forth by BCUC would create three times as many jobs as the construction and operation of Site C by 2054, albeit with short-term job losses.  The longer term scenario forecasts jobs in site remediation, energy conservation, and alternative energy projects, including in the Peace River region.  Commentary on the jobs debates has appeared in “Digging for The Truth on Site C Dam Job Numbers ” in DeSmog Canada (Nov. 16) and  in “ A BC without Site C best bet for taxpayers ” an Opinion piece in The Tyee written by  Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation, which labels the call for current construction jobs as “a red herring”.

Also in The Tyee:Construction Unions Pressing for Completion of Site C” (Nov. 24) , which takes a deep dive into a recent press conference of the Allied Hydro Council of BC, a bargaining agent for unions at previous large hydro projects, and an advocate of the Site C project. The detailed article, outlining ties between the Council and the NDP government, is by Sarah Cox, author of  Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley’s Stand Against Big Hydro (UBC Press, forthcoming Spring 2018).    The Allied Hydro Council submission to the BCUC Inquiry is here .

Quebec launches public consultation on energy transition

On October 17, Transition énergétique Québec (TEQ) announced  the launch of a public consultation process, to  begin Nov. 6 and continue until Dec. 3, 2017, regarding the province’s proposed Master Plan for Energy Transition for the next five years. In addition to compiling public input, TEQ will host thematic workshops focused on residential building, commercial and institutional building, passenger and freight transportation, industry, innovation, bioenergy and land-use planning.  The Consultation website is available in  French only; the TEQ English website  has not yet been updated with any information about the consultation process.

Transition énergétique Québec (TEQ)  is a public corporation created in April 2017 as part of Québec’s 2030 Energy Policy , to support and promote energy transition and coordinate the implementation of energy policies in Quebec.   The current policy document, Energy in Quebec: A source of Growth (2016) sets goals to  enhance energy efficiency by 15%, reduce the amount of petroleum products consumed by 40%  , eliminate the use of thermal coal,  increase overall renewable energy output by 25%,  and increase bioenergy production by 50%.

B.C. Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council established to guide provincial policy

BC Advisory CouncilOn October 23 , the British Columbia Government announced the appointment of  the Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council, to “provide advice to government on actions and policies that can contribute to carbon pollution reductions and optimize opportunities for sustainable economic development and job creation. This includes working with industry and the federal government to address the competitiveness of emissions-intensive trade-exposed sectors, to help them reduce their emissions and continue to thrive economically.”  The formal Terms of Reference are here .   “B.C. Government sets up Climate Council”  in the Climate Examiner provides a  good summary:   “The new body is not intended to craft an entirely new climate change strategy for the nascent government, but rather advise on how to build on the previous climate team’s work, particularly with respect to decarbonizing the major sources of emissions in the province: transport, industry and buildings, the minister said. In addition, the council will offer advice on how to achieve a new mid-term emissions reduction target of 40 percent by 2030, legislation for which is to be introduced next spring.”

The Advisory Council is a permanent group comprised of  22 members, some of whom advised the Liberal governments’ 2016 Climate Leadership Plan;  members are appointed for two year, renewable terms.  The Co-Chairs are Merran Smith, Executive Director, Clean Energy Canada and Marcia Smith, Senior Vice-President of Sustainability and External Affairs, Teck Resources Limited. A full list of members is available –    notably, it includes Lee Loftus, Executive Director of the British Columbia and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council, (a partner organization with the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW) project);  Gavin McGarrigle, BC Area director, Unifor; and  D.J. Pohl, president, Fraser Valley Labour Council.  Academic and activist members Nancy Olewiler, Professor, School of Public Policy, Simon Fraser University; Judith Sayers, Adjunct Professor, University of Victoria; Sybil Seitzinger, Executive Director, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, University of Victoria; Michelle Molnar, Environmental Economist, David Suzuki Foundation; and  Karen Tam Wu, Acting Director, Pembina Institute.

Made-in-Manitoba Green Plan proposes a $25 per tonne carbon tax

Manitoba climate plan coverOn October 27,  the Conservative Government of Manitoba released  a discussion paper, The Made-in-Manitoba Climate and Green Plan , which announces a vision for the province  to be Canada’s “cleanest, greenest and most climate resilient province.”  It opens a brief  public consultation period  till November 30,  with proposals organized around four stated “pillars” : climate, jobs, water and infrastructure.  Although most of the attention has been focused on the carbon tax proposals, the Discussion Paper  proposes dozens of possible initiatives, including electrification of Winnipeg’s transit, encouraging biofuels (e.g. by raising the provincial biodiesel mandate from two per cent to five per cent), and improving waste management to reduce methane emissions, among many others.  Regarding jobs, the report states: “We need to focus on how to prosper through climate change and create new jobs and growth in the transition to a global low-carbon economy. Environmental services and clean technology are opportunity sectors for Manitoba companies.”  The report presents potential initiatives  to create jobs – (for example, reducing “green tape”, encouraging finance and capital markets) and to improve skills and training (e.g. through participation in the U.N. Green Youth Corps, or working with the private sector work “to develop a Clean Growth Talent Plan as part of a new Labour Market Strategy incorporating a focus on climate and sustainability jobs and skills. “)

The section on carbon pricing has attracted most attention because it so clearly misses the criteria laid out outlined by Environment and Climate Change Canada  in The Pan-Canadian Approach to pricing carbon pollution   (the Backstop plan)  and the  Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change . Manitoba’s Discussion Paper proposes  a carbon tax of $25 per tonne to remain in place till 2022 (only half of what the federal Framework Agreement calls for), with farm fuel use exempt.   In a shift of its earlier position, however, Manitoba acknowledges the federal government’s legal right to impose a carbon tax plan on the province,  but continues to insist on its uniqueness:  “Any carbon pricing system in Manitoba must recognize two essential facts: First, Manitoba is already ‘clean’ given our hydroelectricity system with 98 per cent of electricity generated from non-carbon emitting sources. Second, Manitobans have already invested billions of dollars in building our clean energy system and are still doing so with the Keeyask Dam and the Bipole transmission line. Adding a $50 per tonne carbon price on Manitobans at the same time Hydro rates are rising is neither fair nor sensible.”

A thorough discussion of the proposed carbon tax comes from the Ecofiscal Commission. Headlines reflect the reaction to the $25 per tonne carbon tax: at CBC News: “Manitoba thumbs nose at Ottawa, sets own carbon tax scheme” ,  and  “Proposed Manitoba carbon tax ‘will have to go up’: Federal environment minister”.   “Manitoba defies feds, unveils its own carbon pricing plan”  (Oct. 27) in the Winnipeg Free Press includes reaction from political parties and academics.  Also in the Winnipeg Free Press, “Details hazy in Made-in-Manitoba Green plan” – which calls the Green Plan “the political equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube. It’s colourful, intriguing and almost impossible to figure out.”  That was no doubt a topic at the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment conference in Vancouver on November 3.