Canada’s burgeoning clean energy industry created a record-breaking 26,900 green-collar jobs and added a whopping $10.9 billion in provincial renewables investment last year, even as the Harper government remains missing in action.
With Ottawa out for the count, it was the provinces who spearheaded the addition of a total 3.63 gigawatts in renewable power generation in 2014 and a rate of investment in green energy that was 88 per cent higher than in 2013, pushing Canada into a global ranking of sixth place for renewables development, according to a ground-breaking new report published by Clean Energy Canada on Sept. 17.
“I think the numbers are showing that clean energy is a significant piece of the Canadian economy and could be even bigger. The global clean energy market is valued at $790 billion a year and we need a government in Ottawa that makes Canada a clean energy superpower,” said Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, a think tank based at Simon Fraser University.
However, any new federal government wishing to push Canada into first place for renewables would need to invest in a Clean Infrastructure Fund that to provide for eco-friendly transit networks, electric vehicle charging stations, and above all a price put on carbon pollution, according to Smith.
She may well get her wish if the NDP wins the Oct. 19 election, as the party already has promised to make high-polluting industries pay for the ecological damage that they cause through greenhouse gas emissions.
Both the Liberals and NDP have also pledged to phase out federal subsidies for oil sands development and shift government monies towards green energy sources. The NDP have also promised to create a department for urban infrastructure to oversee investments in public transit and wean people off cars.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, for his part, has promised to make a North America-wide clean energy and environment treaty a central focus of Canadian foreign policy and the US-Canada partnership if he is elected prime minister. Such a deal would include an alignment of international negotiating positions and continent-wide emissions-reduction measures.
“We need a government that’s going to commit to meeting our carbon-reduction targets and taking a global leadership role – going to Paris and representing a Canada that’s going to take action [on climate change],” said Smith.
While both Trudeau and Mulcair have promised to play a constructive role at the Conference of Parties talks in Paris this November, neither has committed to a concrete emissions reductions target.
Provinces pushing forward regardless
For now the provinces are paving the way, their highlights including the addition of enough wind power last year to power 500,000 homes, a figure exceeding the 1,600 megawatts added in 2013. Other sources include biomass fuel, solar, and hydropower.
Ontario is also undergoing a grassroots green revolution, as increasing numbers of homeowners and business-owners bolt solar panels onto their roofs. A quick drive through Toronto reveals more and more buildings sprouting rooftop panels.
As wind and waves continue to power a new generation of Canadian households, provinces are also undertaking major hydro projects that will add an extra 4,569 megawatts of capacity by 2020. New dams are under construction at La Romaine in Quebec, Muskrat Falls in Labrador, and the Keeyask project in Manitoba.
In northern British Columbia, the Forest Kerr Hydro Project opened last fall, generating 195 megawatts of electricity that is not only powering 70,000 homes but also creating new opportunities for Tahltan First Nation, who were partners in the project.
“Clean energy is the energy of the future and Canada needs to get in that game and be a leader,” said Smith.
Ontario emerges as powerhouse
Ontario is already taking a leadership role through its Smart Grid program, a $24 million investment that is funding energy storage, electric vehicle infrastructure, and micro-grids among other initiatives. More than 350 new jobs will be created in the process.
Kathleen Wynne’s government is also reaching out beyond its borders, signing a statement of action with 21 other provinces, states, and localities to cut greenhouse gas emissions at the Climate Summit of the Americas in July.
Under the terms of the statement, Ontario is rolling out a cap and trade program to curb major sources of greenhouse gas pollution, shutting down all its coal power plants, further infrastructure investments including electrification of railways, and establishing a mid-term emissions reduction target by 2030.
As renewable energy enjoys an exponential takeoff, coal power is already dying, thanks largely to Ontario’s closing down of old plants. In doing so, the province slashed 4,700 megawatts of fossil fuel energy, the equivalent of taking 8.7 million cars off Canada’s roads, according to the report.
“The provinces are really taking a lead in this new clean energy economy and Ontario’s Clean Energy Act is something to be noted – it’s good policy and the result is that half the [nearly $11 billion in clean energy investment went to Ontario and that created jobs,” said Smith.
From 2010-2014, Ontario invested $12.7 billion in renewable energy. During that same period, Quebec invested $8.6 billion, B.C. chipped in $5.2 billion, and Alberta paid $2.3 billion, while Manitoba put in $1.7 billion.
Smith said that Manitoba’s figures were lower owing to ongoing hydro projects eating up its budget, but its rankings would likely improve when more money was available for other projects.
…but Canada is still left in the dust under Harper
But provincial breakthroughs on the renewables front are dwarfed by President Barack Obama’s federal Clean Power Plan (CPP), which commits America to slashing power plant emissions 32 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, alongside greater investment in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.
In the eyes of many, Obama’s CPP seemingly cements Canada’s reputation as a green energy laggard under Stephen Harper, who remains committed to fossil fuel exploitation and pipeline-building.
“The news on clean energy is good, but with federal leadership, it could be terrific. Unlike Washington, Ottawa’s pretty much been ignoring this sector. We hope and expect this report will serve as a flashing neon sign for federal parties. There’s a huge opportunity here: get on board and show us what you can do,” said Smith.
In her view, Canada could follow the path of Germany, which approaches renewable energy development as both a business policy and a moral imperative to stop global warming.
Thanks to its aggressive development of renewable energy infrastructure, Germany broke a new record on July 25 of this year, when it met 78 per cent of its energy needs through solar, wind, and other green power sources.
On the night of July 22, renewables still met nearly 25 per cent of Germany’s electricity needs, even when solar output was zero and winds were light, proving that green power could ‘keep the lights on’ in an industrialized nation.
“Canada needs to approach clean energy as part of our economic strategy,” said Smith.
But individual Canadian companies are already taking her advice to heart: last year Toronto’s Northland Power sealed a power purchase agreement with Dutch utility firm Delta, for its 600 MW offshore wind farm in Holland, after securing almost $5.2 billion for the project. This remains the largest non-hydro renewable energy placement ever, according to the report.
On the home front, Calgary’s BluEarth Renewables – located in the belly of oil country - raised $81 million of equity financing, bringing its total amount of cash raised to $250 million since it was first incorporated in 2010. The money will support a range of small-hydro, solar, and wind projects.