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Canada has opportunity to ‘turn climate action into a competitive advantage,’ says natural resources minister

By Marco Vigliotti      

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr says investments by Ottawa and bold efforts to encourage the growth of clean energy technologies will put Canada on the path to become a powerhouse in the emerging low-carbon economy.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is touting the Liberal government's multibillion-dollar investments in green infrastructure and technology as helping to lay the groundwork for the country's future prosperity, signalling out millions earmarked to foster clean energy development, construction of charging stations for electric cars, and the development of electricity grids for alternative energies, amongst other initiatives. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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The Trudeau government didn’t waste any time after assuming office in November 2015 to indicate that fighting climate change and moving towards clean-energy technologies would be major priorities.

After signing the Paris climate agreement in December 2015, the government promptly started sketching out its plan to meet emission reduction targets laid out in the global pact.

Most notably, the Liberals committed to a minimum national carbon price of $10 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions, beginning in 2018. The price will rise to $50 per tonne by 2022.

But it didn’t stop on tax policy.

The Liberals pledged to increase the share of Canadian electricity derived from non-emitting sources from nearly 65 per cent to 90 per cent by 2030 and phase out notoriously carbon-intensive coal power, in addition to rolling out multi-million-dollar commitments to supporting clean-energy technologies.

However, critics worry that intrusive economic engineering by Ottawa will lead to surging energy prices for Canadians, with Conservatives pointing to struggles in Ontario as a troubling warning sign of what could be in store for the rest of the country.

But Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr (Winnipeg South Centre, Man.) maintains that the move from fossil fuels to renewables will unlock immense growth opportunities for Canada, already home to one of the cleanest energy grids on the planet, and pave the way for the country to emerge as an economic powerhouse in the new low-carbon economy.

This email Q&A has been edited for style and length.

There has been a lot of discussion about climate initiatives enacted by the government, such as the promised national carbon price, but what concrete measures is the government taking to encourage the growth of alternative energy sources, specifically solar, geothermal, and wind?

“Canada already has one of the cleanest electricity markets in the world. Nearly 65 per cent of our electricity comes from renewable sources and a further 15 per cent comes from nuclear energy, which does not emit greenhouse gases.

“Our government believes Canada can do even better, which is why, in addition to putting a price on carbon, we are also accelerating the phase out of coal-powered electricity and promoting the expansion of existing clean-electricity systems. Our goal is to put Canada on the pathway to having 90 per cent of its electricity coming from non-emitting sources by 2030.

“Budget 2017 lays out the start of our plan to get there. It features almost $22-billion for green infrastructure over the next 11 years, including $2-billion to provinces and territories to implement the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

“For example, Budget 2017 proposes investing: $200-million to support renewable energy technologies established abroad but not yet in Canada, such as offshore wind and geothermal; $220-million to reduce the reliance of Northern and remote communities on diesel fuel by supporting efficiency and clean, renewable energy infrastructure; $100-million for Smart Grid deployment and demonstration–a critical step to expanding the reach of renewable energy; $120-million to deploy infrastructure for electric vehicle charging and natural gas and hydrogen refuelling stations, as well as to support technology demonstration projects; and $182-million to develop new building codes to retrofit existing buildings and construct new net-zero energy consumption buildings.”

If I’m not mistaken, the development of the first solar road in Canada, located in British Columbia, is expected to be completed soon. What does this mean for the future of solar energy in Canada?

“Solar photovoltaic (PV) is one of the fastest growing sources of electricity in Canada. As the price of solar electricity reaches grid parity in different markets across the country, it will play an increasing role in Canada’s energy mix.

“Canadians will benefit from clean, sustainable electricity as it displaces coal and the diesel-generated electricity used in Canada’s northern and remote communities.

“Our government is doing its part to advance solar energy. For example, Natural Resources Canada’s CanmetENERGY Laboratory in Varennes is responsible for conducting research and development that will promote the deployment of solar photovoltaic technologies throughout the country.

“Other programs include the Energy Innovation Program (EIP), and the Accelerated Capital Cost Allowance (CCA) tax measures to encourage investment in equipment that generates or conserves energy by using a renewable energy source, such as solar energy.”

What is the government’s response to calls to use oil wells for the development of geothermal energy? It seems like it would be a logical, green move to use infrastructure designed to extract fossil fuels to spur growth of a renewable alternative.

“Budget 2017 announced that the government intends to establish a $200-million national program to support the deployment of emerging renewable electricity technologies that have been implemented abroad, but not established in Canada. This could include electricity generation from geothermal sources.”

What is the government doing to ensure Canadians will be able to reap the benefits of this promised switch to renewable, clean energy sources and the corresponding surge in green collar jobs? How can we be sure that Canadians and domestic businesses will benefit from the emerging popularity of these energy sources and the jobs they will create (building solar panels, wind turbines, etc.) when low-cost countries like China and Mexico continue to draw manufacturing jobs from high-wage states? Furthermore, China already holds more clean energy permits than any country in the world. How can the government ensure us Canada will be competitive in this sector?

“The Paris Agreement on climate change is an economic opportunity for Canada. We can turn climate action into a competitive advantage and make sure Canada is a leader in the global transition to the low-carbon economy.

“Our clean-growth agenda isn’t just about competing with other countries in clean energy, however. It’s also about ensuring clean tech improves our natural resources sectors, which are at the heart of so many communities across Canada, continue to be a source of good jobs, a strong economy and sustainable prosperity. This includes innovation in energy efficiency, electrification, and cleaner air.

“Within weeks of taking office in November of 2015, our government made sure Canada was a founding member of Mission Innovation, a global partnership that commits us to doubling our investments in clean energy research, development and demonstration over the next five years. That’s what we’ve been doing in our first two budgets.

“In Budget 2016, our government announced more than $1-billion over four years to support clean technology, including in the forestry, fisheries, mining, energy and agriculture sectors.

“We expanded on that commitment in Budget 2017, by identifying clean technology and clean resources as two of six economic sectors where Canada has the potential to be a global leader. That’s why, among other things, Budget 2017 will: provide financing that innovative companies need to grow; support research, development and adoption of clean technologies; and enhance collaboration and establish new ways of measuring success, including increasing the participation of women in the new resource economy.

“In June, I spent a week in China promoting Canada’s natural resources to importers and investors in the world’s second-largest economy. There is a promising overlap between what the Chinese seek and what we can supply, and I saw that when I had the chance to tour the new eco-district in Tianjin. It’s a $2.5-billion project to create a sustainable community featuring almost two square kilometres of Canadian lumber, ingenuity and expertise.

“Part of the community includes more than 100 townhouses built to the Super E energy-efficiency standard—a benchmark created by Natural Resources Canada and now used on three continents.

“Once completed, this eco-district will serve as a research lab, complete with a wood technology centre, to help China achieve its goal of ensuring that 50 per cent of new buildings meet green housing standards by 2020. That includes revising Chinese building codes to allow more wood construction.

“This reflects our vision for the future—not just opening new markets, but literally creating the demand for Canadian imports in those markets. In fact, while I was in China, we renewed a Memorandum of Understanding to replicate that eco-district elsewhere in China. This approach has allowed our softwood lumber exports to China to jump 30-fold since 2002—to $1-billion last year.

“A recent report on the state of Canada’s clean technology sector determined that through climate policies that support innovation, Canada’s clean-tech industry could generate around $19-billion in exports, and provide 95,000 well-paid jobs for Canadians.”

While the government has set a target for the percentage of energy it hopes to draw from renewable sources, are there any source-specific targets? For example, how much energy will be drawn from solar or wind, etc.? Also, is nuclear included as a renewable source in those calculations? If so, what do you make of arguments that until solutions are found for the safe and proper disposal of nuclear waste, it is in fact not a ‘clean’ energy source?

“Today, 80 per cent of our electricity comes from non-greenhouse gas-emitting sources, including nuclear energy, and our government’s goal is to put Canada on the pathway to 90 per cent, by 2030, in large part by accelerating the phasing out of coal-powered electricity.

“However, power generation falls under provincial jurisdiction and it is the responsibility of the provinces to decide the best ways to green their electricity grids.

“When it comes to producing nuclear energy, waste owners are required, under federal law to implement safe solutions for their waste in both the short and long term. Pursuant to the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, all waste produced from nuclear power generation is currently safely managed at facilities licensed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

“As I told the Canadian Nuclear Association earlier this year, there is no reason why nuclear energy can’t be a part of the solution. In fact, Canada is one of only nine Mission Innovation countries to include nuclear energy as part of its clean-energy portfolio.

“Why? Because the use of nuclear power throughout the world makes an important contribution to cleaner air and the mitigation of climate change. Over 22 per cent of the uranium used to generate nuclear power around the world is mined in Canada. This displaces the equivalent of between 300 and 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year compared to electricity that otherwise would have been generated using fossil fuels.”


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