Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Canadian Renewable Energy: Federal and Provincial Government Policy Initiatives

Prior to the election of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party, Canadian provinces were forced to go it alone as the ruling federal Conservatives under Stephen Harper focused on fossil fuels at the expense of renewable energy. Harper's Conservatives actively thwarted climate action on the international stage.  While the Harper government made emission reduction pledges, there was no way that their policy position could not possibly have delivered on these promises.

Years before the 2015 federal election, Canadian provinces were already acting on climate change. They had already put forward a raft of renewable energy targets and in recent months under new federal leadership these goals have become even more ambitious.

Renewable energy is critical if we are to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels and meet the projected demand from EVs and efficient electric home heating systems.

Early in March Canada's First Ministers came together and in their joint communiqué they pledged more action on clean growth and climate change. They pledged to: 
"Meet or exceed Canada's international emissions targets, and will transition our country to a stronger, more resilient, low-carbon economy – while also improving our quality of life." The communiqué went on to say: "We know that a fair transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy is necessary for our collective prosperity, competitiveness, health, and security. Taking smart and effective action today is essential for future generations. These decisions will put Canada at the forefront of the global clean growth economy, and will create opportunities to diversify our economies, open up access to new markets, reduce emissions, and generate good paying, long-term jobs for Canadians...To achieve our goals, we will build on the leadership shown and actions taken by the provinces and territories, as exemplified by the 2015 Quebec Declaration."
The new Canadian government has put forth a climate policy that is a radical departure from the past decade of Conservative rule. Their policy position includes support for renewable energy, clean technology, innovation, and jobs. They also committed to a national carbon pricing scheme adapted to each province's and territory's specific circumstances.

In the Vancouver Declaration the premiers and the provinces outlined a vision for clean growth and climate action. Renewable energy is the key to advancing climate action and cutting GHGs. To confront climate change we must wean ourselves off of fossil fuels and reports show that Canada can get all of its electricity from renewables.

After years prioritizing the fossil fuel industry under the Harper government, Canada is now getting serious about clean energy. Thanks to decades of provincial action, the nation is well positioned to transition to 100 percent renewables. Currently around 80 percent of all Canadian electricity comes from non-GHG emitting sources (mostly hydroelectricity).

We are seeing tremendous growth in renewable energy across Canada. As reported by Desmog, an analysis by Clean Energy Canada indicates that federal and provincial policy shifts in the country are ramping up the nation's renewable energy capacity.

"For the first time the federal government and the provinces are working together to establish a national climate plan," Dan Woynillowicz, policy director at Clean Energy Canada, said. "A big piece of the puzzle is not just cleaning up the grid, but electrifying other parts of the economy reliant on fossil fuels."

We are seeing increasingly ambitious renewable energy targets including a continent wide target of 50 percent renewables by 2025.

Even those provinces with historically low interest in clean energy are getting on board. According to David Hickey, Siemens Canada head of wind and renewables, up to $50 billion will be invested in renewable energy projects in Alberta and Saskatchewan alone over the next 14 years. Solar wind and geothermal are expected to see tremendous growth.

The explained in a Desmog article, "All of that means things are finally looking up for clean energy in Canada." Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association said:

"There is certainly reason for optimism. We are in a unique moment in time. Not just the federal government, but Ontario, B.C., Quebec, and Alberta have all expressed climate change as a priority."

All Canadian provinces are working to grow their share of renewable energy. Even the oil producing province of Alberta is on the cusp of a renewable energy explosion. The new government of Alberta has announced a bold climate plan that will see almost a third of the province's electricity generated by renewable sources over the next 14 years.  Like the Harper government, the previous government of Alberta's emphasis on fossil fuels delayed the province's entry into the modern economy.  The new government in Alberta is trying to make up for these lost opportunities.  

Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips put climate action and the drive towards renewables into perspective when she said:

"Continuing to do nothing is a dead end for our economy. Inaction on climate change will only result in more boom-bust, fewer opportunities for access to markets, and more risk to our resiliency as a province."

In Saskatchewan the provincial government has indicated that they get half of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. Currently a quarter of Saskatchewan's electricity generation is from renewables. Three new wind power projects are expected to nearly double the province's wind generation by 2020. The province is also investing heavily in utility-scale solar power generation project.

As reported by Progress Alberta: "The writing is on the wall, solar is coming to Alberta and it's coming in a big way."

The province is on track for 2000 megawatts of solar by 2025. Over the last year Alberta's solar output has more than doubled. A total of 385 megawatts is in the development pipeline. This is a radical increase from the 9 megawatts Alberta currently produces. The first Alberta government funded renewable energy projects are expected to come online by 2019.

Ontario has laid out a 57 page climate action plan. This plan addresses everything from vehicles to heating. The province intends to invest $7-billion over four years. Under the plan Ontario wants to cut emissions by 37 percent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050 compared to 1990.

“We are on the cusp of a once-in-a-lifetime transformation. It’s a transformation of how we look at our planet and the impact we have on it,” reads a preamble to the plan signed by Ms. Wynne. “It’s a transformation that will forever change how we live, work, play and move.”

The province of Quebec has also shown climate leadership. 

To see a comprehensive summary of environmental issues and actions at the federal and provincial levels click here.

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