Multiple pathways to Clean Energy: Canada’s Western Provinces

To advance the dialogue on the emerging energy-related opportunities and issues related to the transformation to clean energy, the Energy Council of Canada, the World Energy Council’s Canadian member committee, together with its member organisations from the public and private sectors across the region, held a conference on the theme Multiple Pathways to Clean Energy in Saskatchewan, Regina, Western Canada.

Clean energy has become a central policy goal of Canada’s western provinces. It is seen as a pathway to achieve provincial emissions reduction targets, to diversify provincial economies, and to foster growth in green business, investment, and new types of jobs.

There is close policy alignment between the federal and provincial governments around finding a prudent balance between developing Canada’s natural resources and protecting and preserving the environment. Each province is following its own path based on the characteristics of its economy, its resource base, and policy preferences, leading to a diverse mix of policies, measures and initiatives.

The Saskatchewan province’s policy goal for the generation sector is aggressive: a phased approach to achieving 50% of capacity based on renewables by 2030, from the present 25% share. Actions include investment in world-leading, commercial scale carbon capture, use and storage projects, which have captured 1.5 Mt of CO2 to date and will extend the plant’s operating lifetime.

The province is at odds with the proposed federal carbon tax, since it would make Saskatchewan’s industries less competitive, preferring a multiple pathway approach that takes full account of the impacts on people and industry. Since 2005, emissions intensity has decreased by 12% and in the same period the province’s GDP has increased by 25%.

Over 160 attendees heard policy insights from provincial energy and environment ministers from western Canada, and from the federal Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources Canada.

Sessions examined three pathways to clean energy, two pertaining to the individual jurisdictions, and a third calling for close collaboration to seize an emerging regional opportunity:

• Firstly, transformation of electricity generation: the diversity of the strategies and actions in each jurisdiction which are greening the generation mix

• Secondly, climate policy: each province has implemented climate policies matched to the characteristics of their energy sectors and their policy design preferences. Key issues are the track record to date of emissions reductions, the impact on energy prices, the interplay between provincial and national policies, and the outlook for carbon policy in the future.

• Thirdly, regional collaboration to build a western Canada electricity grid: focusing on the opportunity to further develop the idea of a regional grid, including supply and demand synergies, investments required, the implications for market operation and regulation, and the critical path ahead.

Preserving competitiveness in trade-exposed sectors was frequently mentioned during the sessions at the event, as an important economic consideration as climate policies are designed and implemented. Innovation, seizing opportunities for Canadian companies, providing global environmental expertise and GHG mitigation technologies, and aggressive targets to transform provincial electricity generation portfolios were government initiatives also highlighted by the Ministers speaking at the event.

President and CEO of SaskPower Key, Mike Marshes’ points focused on avoiding policies that pre-determine or bias technology choices so that choices can be made from a diverse mix of cost-effective options.

This includes fossil fuels, nuclear options, and renewables rather than ‘’picking winners’’ or prematurely eliminating technology options; developing energy storage capacity; not over-burdening the electricity system alone with policy initiatives to achieve GHG targets; keeping the public informed and engaged; avoiding unintended consequences such as reducing competitiveness; and, improving further on Canada’s current clean electricity generation, which is already 80% emissions-free.

Martha Hall Findlay, President and CEO, Canada West Foundation, highlighted the need for cross-Canada government leadership acting altruistically in Canada’s best interest. She called for the engagement of politicians in the federal, provincial and municipal governments to avoid conflicting policies; finding a way to consolidate the results of the diverse mix of policies which have emerged to date.

During the Western Canada Regional Electricity Grid Session, Kelvin Shepherd, President and CEO, Manitoba Hydro, who chaired the event, outlined the significant opportunity to substantially increase interconnections between Canada’s western provinces.

Enhanced reliability and grid stability, enabling the transformation from coal-based generation systems to a greater share of clean generation, and profiting from sale of excess power to a neighbouring jurisdiction were also highlighted as advantages of increased electricity trade.

New financing from the federal government for new transmission capacity; communicating the advantages of increased trade to the public; and, providing support for workers and company towns impacted negatively by the transition from coal to a cleaner generation mix, were cited as necessary requirements to make this happen.

“This conference provided information, insights and recommendations to guide progress along pathways to clean energy in western Canada. It was an excellent example of how the Energy Council of Canada acts to fulfill its strategic goals of informing public policy and fostering objective and open energy dialogue amongst a broad cross-section of policy-makers, energy leaders, academics, and experts.
“Discussions on the many social dimensions of climate policy on Canada’s First Nations must start, and continue, with honour, trust, and respect. This approach will foster genuine, value-based cooperation between indigenous peoples, governments, and energy companies which includes consideration of education, health care, and demographic dimensions,” said Graham Campbell, President, Energy Council of Canada.

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