Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Canada is back to leading on energy and environment

Everything this week seems to be about energy. On the negative front, Ontario’s electricity system has been mismanaged, causing excess costs, or so Ontario’s Auditor General has reported. While some of this seems to be a misunderstanding, since, as I wrote almost a year ago, having enough electric supply when we need it requires having too much at other times, I have seen other instances where political expediency or rank incompetence has run up the bill. But while renewable energy seems to be the whipping-boy for those, mostly to the right, who despise everything Liberal, there are a couple of other decisions which are going to be far more consequential for our pocketbooks. One is a pending investment in more nuclear power, the most expensive and underwhelming option in Ontario’s power book. Every nuclear build or re-build in Ontario’s history has been way over budget and taken far longer than promised, and there is no reason to assume this will be otherwise.
The other is the cap-and-trade scheme by which Ontario, along with Quebec, Manitoba, and California, will somehow issue emission permits, some for money and others free, requiring all emitters obtain sufficient permits. The potential for gaming this system for private gain is huge, as is the potential for subverting and exceeding the supposed limits. The only thing we can predict for sure, in the absence of more details, is this will be a very expensive way to achieve emission reductions.
Other promised measures hold out more promise. Ontario’s recent promise to install thousands of electric vehicle charging stations is a big move in the right direction. Getting cars off polluting gasoline and onto our relatively clean electric grid can only help reduce climate emissions and improve air quality. Convenient charging stations will allow more people and businesses to make the switch to electric. (Then you just have to remember to plug in! Oops…)
And now there is talk of putting serious money into retrofitting our buildings. These initiatives are a win-win-win, because not only do they reduce energy waste, they also save you money every month on your electric and gas bills, and create lots of good local jobs that can’t be offshored. Only a tiny fraction of our buildings have been retrofitted or built to high energy standards, so there is huge potential on this front.
I don't know the guy standing,
but I know two of the ladies sitting beside him.
And if the word from Paris is anything to go by, we need to find the areas of most potential, and soon. That’s because our own Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catharine McKenna, just called for a global target of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, much safer than the 2 degrees earlier consensed. Finally, Canada is showing strong leadership on the climate file! This target is very ambitious, and will require not just the federal government, but all provinces, cities, businesses, and even families to take concrete steps to cut back their emissions.
Komm vit mir if you vant to liff.
Luckily, with new climate-conscious government in Ottawa and Alberta and with oil patch unions heeding the call, the will may finally be here to transition our nation off fossil fuels entirely. As former California Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger noted this week: “A clean energy future is a wise investment, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either wrong, or lying. Now come with me if you want to live.”

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Will strong to dump fossil fuels?"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is vice-president of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

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