Canada’s biggest threat to meeting GHG targets? Reluctance of Canadians to change their lifestyles

Canada’s biggest threat to meeting GHG targets? Reluctance of Canadians to change their lifestyles

Aug. 25, 2017

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Image: iStock

Canadians pay among the lowest prices for electricity in the world, and the chair of a Senate committee that has been holding fact-finding get-togethers with citizens who benefit economically from those low rates isn’t sure they’re willing to pay what Europeans do to decarbonize the country’s power sector.

“Environmentalists say we should be like Denmark and Germany,” says Sen. Richard Neufeld, a former B.C. provincial politician who chairs the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. The committee has been holding meetings on university campuses and elsewhere across Canada to gather information for a series of interim reports. It will release a final report later this year or in early 2018.

“Citizens of Denmark and Germany pay 45 cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity, compared to an average in Canada of eight to 10 cents. If consumers in Canada had to pay that, there would be a revolution,” Neufeld says.

Neufeld points to Ontario, where electricity rates have doubled since the provincial government phased out all coal-fired power and provided heavy subsidies to bring on more solar, wind and other more costly options, as what could happen in the rest of Canada if power rates skyrocket. The Liberal government in that province, which phased-out coal and turned to costlier alternatives, has consistently trailed badly in the polls.

The committee released a 59-page report, Positioning Canada’s Electricity Sector for a Carbon Constrained Future, in late March.

Neufeld, who was the mayor of For Nelson before serving as the MLA for Peace River North from 1991 to 2008 then being appointed to the Senate in 2009 by former prime minister Stephen Harper, should know how voters in Canada can react to governments they believe are no longer responding to their needs. The former Liberal B.C. government, which he represented in several cabinet posts, including as minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources, recently lost an election to a coalition of the New Democrats and the Greens after more than 15 years in power.

Neufeld, who represented an area of B.C. that is very economically reliant on oil and gas development and owned an energy-related business in the region, is unabashedly pro–fossil fuels.

He’s also concerned about the radical economic shift that would be required to meet Canada’s Paris Agreement commitment to cut CO2 emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 and what that would “hit Fred and Martha [i.e., average Canadians] in their pocketbook.”

He has said policymakers “must be mindful of passing down…costs to consumers and making it unaffordable.”

The committee’s deputy chair, Quebec-based Sen. Paul Massicotte, a former business executive who was appointed to the Senate by former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien in 2003, is more of an optimist about reaching the goal. It would require Canada, on track to emit 742 megatonnes of CO2 by 2030, to remove 219 megatonnes from its annual emissions toll.

Commenting on another report released by the Senate committee, Decarbonizing Transportation in Canada, he says “some minor changes to how we travel and how we ship goods could have a significant impact on our greenhouse gas emissions.”

Neufeld is not so sure.

“The rest of the world calls us energy hogs,” he says, but, given Canada’s climate, its extensive land mass and other factors, it’s unavoidable that Canadians will use more energy than more populous nations with a smaller geographic footprint.

“You can drive across Germany and Switzerland in a day,” he says. “You can’t do that in Canada.”

He says many of the younger Canadians the committee met with on university campuses, as well as the professors, hold an unrealistic view of the country’s electricity sector. “The students and professors all wanted to shift radically to the use of renewables, such as solar,” he says. “But how realistic is that in the Arctic, where they don’t get any sun for several months during the winter?”

In fact, according to the Senate report on Canada’s electricity sector, the country already has one of the cleanest power sectors in the world, with 80 per cent of its electricity coming from sources that do not emit greenhouse gases (GHGs). Almost 60 per cent of the country’s power comes from hydro, with nuclear power providing 16 per cent, and wind, solar and other renewables about 3.5 per cent.

The GHG-emitting power sources—which include coal-fired power, now being phased out in most parts of the country, and natural gas–fired power—are responsible for most of the remaining electricity.

Because Canada has such clean power sources, power is only responsible for 11 per cent of the country’s GHGs. It’s also only responsible for 2.5 per cent of global electricity consumption. In 2014, Canada used 550 terawatt-hours of power, with the industrial sector responsible for 43 per cent of total consumption and households for 33 per cent.

The Senate report highlights some steps that could be taken to make the power system even cleaner and more efficient, including the development of “smart grids” and power-sharing between provinces and between the U.S. and Canada.

The move toward a national carbon tax, along with regulations to phase out coal-fired power, will also lead to a lower carbon footprint from the sector, the report concludes.

But Neufeld, a conservative who worries about the impact of any further moves to decarbonize one of the world’s lowest-carbon power systems, insisted the Senators add that any such steps should be taken without creating “undue hardship” for Canadians from an economic standpoint.

“You can always do more,” says Neufeld, but he adds that Alberta and Saskatchewan, where much of the thermal power use in Canada is generated, simply have no logical alternative.

“They have very little hydro potential,” so they need to use fossil fuels.

Alberta has committed to shutting down its coal-fired plants by 2030, and Saskatchewan is also moving in that direction. While renewables will play an increasing role in those provinces, Neufeld says the shift should be gradual “without disrupting their economies.”




About prosperitysaskatchewan

Consultant on Saskatchewan's natural resources.

Posted on August 28, 2017, in economic impact, oil, political, uranium and nuclear. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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