You can make a difference.

Support the journalism that keeps democracy strong. We can't do this without you.
Goal: $60,000

Never waste a good crisis.

The pandemic has revealed much that was fragile and dangerous in the old “normal” most took for granted only a few short weeks ago. The silver lining, if there is one, is laying bare so much we need to do, and why prompt action is critical.

For the accelerating climate crisis, COVID-19 offers so many lessons it is hard to digest them all. One is the financial shock to oil-industry lenders and investors, who kept thinking growth would follow growth. Now that the energy sector’s share of the S&P 500 index has collapsed 80 per cent in a decade, the oil industry has gone from the mainstream to the fringes of investors’ portfolios with remarkable speed.

With renewed attention to public health, we should see less tolerance for the air pollution that comes from fossil fuels. It is clearer than ever a secure-energy future, clean air and stable climate are based on energy conservation and low-carbon electricity. For an increasing number of people, low-carbon electricity is also the cheapest electricity. For example, Berkshire Hathaway reports generating almost all the power demand of their Iowa customers from wind allows them to charge electricity rates 70 per cent less than the competing, fossil-based utility.

Canada could be a powerhouse in this future, and could offer energy investors large opportunities for low-carbon capital deployment. We have many advantages, including enormous hydropower, wind, nuclear and solar resources. But Canadian power systems are decentralized, inconsistent and poorly connected, just when they most require co-ordination.

No major Canadian product has more widely varying prices than electricity: from 7.3 cents per kilowatt-hour in Quebec to 16.5 cents in Saskatchewan. Generation, transmission and storage are planned, built and financed separately. Each province has its own electricity institutions, market, regulation and pricing. Weak transmission connections and uneven price signals prevent cost-effective deployment of renewable resources, storage options and demand-response strategies. Instead, provinces silo themselves in outdated practices and miss the best opportunities. And some, like Ontario, have actively turned away from both conservation and clean renewable power, repealing laws, breaking contracts, repudiating investors and physically destroying completed turbines.

All provinces would have a more successful transition to a green economy with a common framework for electricity investment, trade and pricing, linked together with an open and shared transmission network. This would allow all provinces to attract more capital, green their supply and lower their decarbonization cost.

Before COVID-19, this kind of countrywide co-ordination seemed impossibly ambitious. Now, we know that when the stakes are high enough, even bitter political rivals can work together for the public good. When urgent, shared risks are clearly explained and governments take their responsibility, people understand, make difficult changes to their behaviour and look for opportunities to do their share.

Canada has good precedent for countrywide co-operation on matters within provincial jurisdiction. For example, each province is responsible for health, but the Canada Health Act guarantees a minimum level of services to all Canadians, which the federal government helps to fund. The road toward the Canada Health Act was neither easy nor obvious, but the necessary public spirit and compromises made Canada much stronger.

Similarly, Canada will be cleaner and stronger with a co-ordinated, national approach to electricity. We don’t have to both pay so much for electricity and waste so much. With common rules, joint planning, better connections and facilitated trade, B.C., Manitoba, Quebec and Labrador could use their huge hydropower dams to store electricity from the outstanding solar and wind resources in Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as from solar panels on your roof. That would make low-carbon electricity available all year when we need it, for all our energy needs, including transportation.

The climate crisis is not moving as quickly as the pandemic, but it is just as urgent because the consequences of today’s actions will last so long and have such enormous effects on us all. Canada can respond to the collapse of oil prices by opening another door to a better future, pivoting Canada’s energy sector to shared, low-carbon electrification.

Absolutely , a national power grid is just as vital as the Trans Canada Highway. The highway was paid for by the Bank of Canada as a means for creating the money needed in the economy. Now the money is created by the private financial sector as debt for personal consumption. Government should build, own and manage the "COMMONS" and stop the stupidity of thinking that business can do it better. Business is good at business, but not public common interests.

Mr. Twohig is pointing out what experience over the last 40 years in the North American, indeed the global economy shows as the abject failure of governments to safeguard the "commons" from the myths of Capitalism.

Capitalism has a place in human society but what we have seen is a brutal takeover and punitive pillaging of human and environmental resources for the obscene enrichment of the oligarchic tribes.

The Capitalist pandemic may have suffered a damaging blow by Covid-19. We can hope that the insanity of the Trump/type regime - emblematic of Capitalism's most glaring failures, will hasten a re-calibration of the balance between private enrichment and public "good".

A national smart grid is a very good idea, but it would have to surmount a few enormous challenges, chief among them the fact that the provinces are not very good at trading with each other, at least not as well as they adhere to trading internationally. Another is the monopoly of public utilities which is threatened by decentralized local generation of power, whether small arrays of solar panels on urban rooftops or large-scale operations proposed by First Nations. BC Hydro is one such inflexible organization that refuses to pay a fair price for surplus power produced by small residential systems, or for large-scale private, Indigenous or municipal systems.

That said, it makes ultimate sense for the feds to wise up and take advantage of the post-pandemic rebuilding effort to step in and build a corridor that accommodates long-distance clean electricity transmission as well as things like high-speed rail. Anyone who has taken the Eurostar between London and Paris and tried to count the wind turbines in neighbouring farmer's fields would notice how antiquated Canada's rail and electricity systems really are.

There are distinct advantages to a smart grid beyond the author's comment on risk sharing. High voltage direct current conductors lose just 3% of their load due to line resistance for every 1,000 km, making building a vast network very advantageous. Quebec can export power to BC with 90% of the power arriving intact. The time zones stretching across 5,000 km allow one jurisdiction to export clean power at low nighttime rates to other jurisdictions during their peak use and higher rate times, therein offsetting some of the costs of producing power and therein increasing the lifespan of generating infrastructure. Multiple jurisdictions joining together can send huge amounts of power anywhere on the continent with the right inter-ties at the borders.

Building high-speed rail on the flat Prairies wouldn't offer insurmountable physical or cost challenges. To sweeten the pot for farmers who will lose a thin slice of their land for the rail corridor (probably only 100 m wide at most) they could be offered extra income and free power for allowing wind turbines on their land, and similar deals could be offered to all farmers within, say, 5 km of the corridor which would also carry HVDC transmission lines tapped by Via Rail to operate its national-scale high-speed trains along with local commuter rail. A 10-km swath of open Prairie farmland with the power and rail corridor in the centre would create a wind generation opportunity of 30,000 km2 of windy, flat landscape for every 3,000 km of corridor. The clean power potential is enormous, and farmers are some of the prime beneficiaries.

Wind and solar make ultimate sense because they are already proven technologically and financially. With high-capacity, scalable storage technology soon to be released that offer localized, base load power storage (e.g. liquid metal batteries), this becomes a no brainer.

The only things getting in the way are outdated political attitudes and ideological intransigence.

Agreed! Quebec could supply Ontario with low-cost renewable water power (they have massive surplus), allowing ON to forgo the planned high-cost nuclear rebuilds of 10 aging reactors. And QC's hydro reservoirs could provide back-up storage for ON's renewable energy, allowing ON to phase out its high-GHG-emission gas plants. Combined with conservation, ON could go 100% renewable and save billions of dollars in the process by buying QC's surplus water power. For more info: and