Top clean energy opportunities for Canada in 2013

Blog - Feb. 19, 2013 - By Kevin Sauve

So far, 2013 has been rife with energy and environment headlines: a melting Arctic fuels debate about further northward-bound fossil fuel exploitation after a drilling rig runs aground; studies confirm elevated levels of carcinogens in water bodies around the oilsands; Obama’s embrace of climate action and clean energy makes the future of the Keystone XL pipeline uncertain; new research shows Canada is falling behind in the global clean energy race. And that’s just to name a few.

I asked four of Pembina’s directors what clean energy opportunities 2013 might have in store. Here’s what they had to say.

A healthy supply of clean electrons — Tim Weis, Director, Renewable Energy and Efficiency 
 

“We need the provinces that rely on coal to act faster than the federal government is asking them to. Alberta alone burns over 24 million tonnes each year to produce almost 70 per cent of its electricity. That’s more than half of the coal burned for electricity in the whole country and equivalent to six tonnes per Albertan. We know coal is bad for climate change, but it’s also a hazard to public health, given the amount of mercury, particulates and other toxic compounds that burning it produces.

“Meanwhile, Ontario has announced it will be virtually coal-free by the end of the year. This puts the province ahead of federal regulations that don’t come into effect until 2015, and even then will take another one and half decades to accomplish what Ontario will have completed by the end of this year. With world-class wind and solar resources, a domestic natural gas supply and ample opportunity to cogenerate heat as well as electricity, Alberta has plenty of options to reduce its electricity emissions.

“The good news is that there seems to be some momentum around developing a provincial policy framework for renewable energy in Alberta this year. This process has been a long time coming, and if it does comes together this year, it will lay the groundwork for Alberta’s first renewable energy policy.”

Regulate Canada’s biggest climate culprit — Jennifer Grant, Director, Oilsands 
 

“With federal greenhouse gas regulations for the oil and gas sector in the works, and considering Alberta is long overdue to strengthen regulations for its largest emitters, both governments have the opportunity to ensure proper management of climate pollution from the oilsands.

“With only seven years until 2020, Canada is only halfway to meeting its national climate target, with the oilsands representing the country’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution. Pembina has offered several recommendations to Alberta and Canada to advance responsible oilsands development and make large strides toward reaching its climate commitments, and this year we hope to see some of them addressed.

“As David McLauglin, former head of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, has said, ‘There is only one sector that matters most for Canada when it comes to getting emissions down: the oilsands. If oilsands emissions go down, we meet our national carbon-reduction targets. If not, we don't.’ We’ll have a good idea of the long-term direction of emissions from the oilsands in 2013. Hopefully it’s trending down.”

Price carbon in oil and gas country — Matt Horne, Director, Climate Change
 

“Alberta and B.C. have a good opportunity to strengthen their climate policies this year, and in particular their carbon pricing policies.Few people realize that Alberta was the first province with a carbon price, in 2007. Called the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation, or SGER, it charges up to $15 per tonne — but it only covers up to 12 per cent of a company’s greenhouse gas pollution. We know this isn’t enough for the province to meet its climate commitments; the policy needs to be strengthened.

“Alberta can even look next door for sound advice from British Columbia. Implemented in 2008, B.C’s carbon tax now charges $30 per tonne on most of B.C.’s emissions. The higher price and broader coverage means that B.C.’s carbon tax is more effective than the SGER, yet without any improvements planned, B.C.’s tax is still too low and narrow to meet provincial targets.

“The challenge for both provinces this year is to take the next steps on their carbon pricing policies. We know these steps will help reduce emissions in a way that promotes a strong economy, and my sense is that Albertans and British Columbians are ready for action.”

Sprawl no more — Cherise Burda, Director, Transportation  
 

“When it comes to reducing the climate burden of transportation, the question for our biggest cities is how to fund transit infrastructure. This is particularly true for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), where traffic congestion contributes to some of the longest commutes in North America and costs the city millions in lost productivity.

“Ontario’s new premier has shown bold support for the implementation of revenue tools to fund transit expansion as part of the Big Move regional transportation plan. This is a huge opportunity for Toronto and we hope to see some of Pembina’s transit recommendations for the GTA on the table this year.

“But the transportation woes of our cities are a symptom of a much bigger problem. Across Canada there is much that needs to be done to reduce urban sprawl. Even if we undergo huge expansions to our transit networks in all of our major cities, it’s not going to be enough reduce the number of cars contributing to our climate crisis.

“What’s needed is a serious commitment to change our planning and development policies — and, as our research shows, there’s a huge opportunity for our provinces and cities to introduce new market tools to reduce sprawl. In the GTA in particular, we can plan to intensify development along new rapid transit corridors. These are the kinds of policies I’ll be looking for from our cities in 2013.”


Kevin Sauve

Kevin is the B.C. Communications Lead for the Pembina Institute.


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