Energy Ink

Energy Consensus Closer Than We Think

Jim Prentice personified energy-environment bridge building.

October 15, 2016

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The late Jim Prentice was always ahead of the curve on energy. He was one of the early voices to call for pipelines to the coasts. As federal environment minister, he represented Canada when it signed the Copenhagen deal to curb GHGs. He was the brains behind the Harper government’s phase-out of coal-fired power, and he worked with the U.S. to get stricter auto emission standards. As Premier of Alberta he wanted to invest in renewable energy as coal plants retired. He brought environment and climate change issues into a space that wasn’t always very open to embracing this thinking. Jim Prentice—an effective bridge builder whose legacy includes reconciliation with aboriginal peoples—also encouraged Alberta’s First Nations that support crude to tidewater to work with those B.C. communities that don’t. Today much of his thinking is mainstream.

Despite the sparks flying over power generation and the carbon tax in Canada’s great energy debate there is a quiet agreement on many energy and environment issues among the ruling and opposition parties from east to west coasts, including climate science, investment in renewables and the importance of oil and gas. They diverge on coal, carbon pricing and pipeline specifics.

The stances of the Liberal government in Ottawa and Alberta’s NDP are well known. Yet as they attract the lightening, conservative Saskatchewan forges quietly on as one of the nation’s leaders in renewable energy. Government-owned Saskpower already produces 25 percent of the province’s electricity from renewables, mostly wind and river-based hydro—compared to Alberta’s 15 percent. Under Premier Brad Wall, its 2030 target is 50 percent, adding solar and possibly geothermal and biomass energy to Saskatchewan’s energy mix. . The biggest change will be to focus on solar, Wall says, thanks to “advancements in technology.”

His plan is even more ambitious than Alberta’s, which is only tilting at 30 percent by 2030.  Saskatchewan is also a global leader in carbon capture and storage (CCS) to cut carbon emissions to keep coal competitive—an option favored by Alberta’s official opposition, the right-of-center Wildrose party. Wall says, “There is only one way we can square this circle of slashing greenhouse gases, while ensuring economic growth continues, and a big part of that, absolutely, is CCS.”

Brian Jean—leader of the Wildrose party, which wants to cut regulations and taxes—is no climate change denier either: “Man-made climate change is real and we need to tackle it head-on,” he says. Jean thinks having the world’s largest coast line gives Canada the potential to be a tidal power leader, and that the province’s some 220,000 disused oil and gas wells also have geothermal energy potential. His Shadow Minister for Electricity and Renewables, Don MacIntyre, who is also an instructor in the Alternative Energy Program at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, also supports geothermal energy.

It almost goes without saying that all mainstream parties support oil and gas as being central to Canada’s energy mix, while disagreeing over specifics, such as the best route to get crude to tidewater—there will never be a consensus on all aspects of energy in a healthy democracy. Nonetheless, there’s a lot more agreement than the rhetoric would suggest. We’ve come a long, long way down a stony trail from the scorched earth politics of the National Energy Program of Pierre Trudeau. Jim Prentice helped pave it. Such bridge building is part of his legacy.

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2 Responses to “Energy Consensus Closer Than We Think”

  1. Joe Vipond says:

    Although SK’s renewables target seems more impressive than Alberta, SK’s is based on capacity, not generation. So 50% capacity vs. 30% generation. In actual fact AB’s is a bigger target/

    • Eric Wilson says:

      Very true, With wind power capacity is somewhat meaningless. It does matter, but once you factor in what the average generation of a wind turbine is, it is far removed from the capacity.