Support journalism that lights the way through the climate crisis

Goal: $100k
$21,554

As usual, the recent UN climate talks produced wonderful words from Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister, Steven Guilbeault. “COP28 calls for groundbreaking goals to triple renewable energy, double energy efficiency, and, for the first time ever, we reached a historic consensus to move away from fossil fuels in energy systems,” he said, as the talks wound down in early December. Guilbeault played a key role in producing that successful final communique.

We’ve been hearing how great Canada is at every one of these conferences since the Liberals took office in 2015. Our own Catherine McKenna, who also served as environment minister, was instrumental at COP21 in Paris and helped establish the aspirational goal to limit the end of the century temperature rise to 1.5C. McKenna said back then “Canada is ready to do its part.”

But we haven’t delivered on that promise. Canada recently was rated as being in the G20’s next to worst group for having “highly insufficient” greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction plans for 2030. We share that spot with China and India. McKenna now has a job at the UN calling out entities who claim to be doing their part but aren’t and Canada should be on her list.

The basics of the UN process is that each country tracks its own emissions and reduces them based on committed targets. The idea of the target is to actually reduce our own emissions, not just say we are going to it and then do the opposite. Key phrases to remember are “reduce” and “own emissions”. The Trudeau government seems confused about that.

For example, they approved liquid natural gas (LNG) terminals that greatly increased BC emissions using an argument that exporting the fossil fuel to China would help the Chinese stop using coal. While getting China off coal could be seen as commendable, that action moved us further away from our UN commitment to reduce our own emissions. Our prime minister’s twisted logic also led to Canada approving and eventually buying the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The justification was selling more bitumen via the pipeline would help fund the green economy. In reality, the project became a massive money pit sucking up tens of billions of dollars that could have funded the green shift in Canada. Long term, that money pit will require ongoing subsidies to enable fossil fuel producers to afford to ship on that pipeline.

The inconvenient truth about battery plants is they themselves are big greenhouse gas emitters. #batteries #Onpoli #GHGs

Now, the prime minister and his people are back at it again. Their most recent expenditure is tens of billions to subsidize profitable global corporations to build battery plants in Canada. That sounds green on the surface but in actual fact battery plants themselves are large GHG emitters, requiring fossil fuel burning and large amounts of electricity. The batteries produced will mostly be for export, meaning they will be placed in foreign cars and the resulting emissions reductions will benefit countries other than ours. Canada, in effect, is taking on increased GHG emissions to help other countries meet their goals and paying tens of billions for the privilege.

The government knows this. But it doesn't talk directly about how bad these plants can be for Canada’s climate goals. They talk about how a Quebec battery plant is perhaps the world’s most environmentally friendly because of Quebec’s green electricity supply but there is silence on the Ontario plants’ emissions. That’s because Ontario is probably one of the last places battery plants should be built from a climate action perspective based on recent behaviour.

Let’s look at some battery plant company material that attempts to reduce that GHG concern. Stellantis/LG says about their $5 billion dollar plant, the one our governments are giving $15 billion to in Windsor, Ont. “Canada is committed to establishing a broad, local battery ecosystem by leveraging, among other things, its leadership in the generation of electricity from renewable sources,” the site boasts. To believe that, you’d have to believe Windsor hasn’t been in Ontario.

The current leadership of Ontario in 2018, their first year in office, canceled hundreds of green energy projects at a cost of hundreds of millions dollars and has not been encouraging any new renewable solar or wind development. Let’s look at the record on that. According to the Canadian Renewable Energy Association in 2022 1.8 GW of wind and solar energy was added in Canada. Impressive. How much of that was in Ontario? A mere .01 GW. Essentially nothing.

Ontario’s Independent Energy System Operator (IESO) pivoted somewhat in December of last year, with a plan to add 5 GW of renewables in the 2030’s. Stellantis has a global goal of being carbon neutral by 2038 which may have helped inch the Ford government towards the green side of things. We should celebrate that. But keep in mind that the Trudeau government has committed to a goal of a 40-45 per cent reduction in Canada’s emissions by 2030. These plants go the opposite way with significant emissions starting very soon.

Enbridge has applied to dramatically increase natural gas supply in Southwestern Ontario for the new battery plant among other users, forecasting a 50 per cent increase in demand in the area by 2030. Ontario’s IESO is also installing major new electricity infrastructure in the area, and much of the region’s incremental load will be met with natural gas fired electricity for the next several years at least, according to the City of Windsor. Does any of this sound like Guilbeault’s upbeat take away from COP28?

If your answer is yes, then you aren’t watching what the Trudeau and Ford governments are doing. Our UN commitment calls on Canada to reduce emissions and, by extension, our own use of fossil fuels. We are moving in the wrong direction for a variety of reasons – economic as well as political. Our primary goal must be our UN commitment because, as we keep saying, climate change is an existential threat. Perhaps Catherine McKenna can call us out on that.

Keep reading

We have to be wary of greenwashing on a grand scale
In theory, electric cars are much, much better than fossil-fuel propelled cars. However, electric cars are still a 3500lb (+ or-) vehicle to transport a single passenger. A good public transit system must be the first option.

Just as in Ontario, questions about the Northvolt battery plant in McMasterville abound. For instance, the plant will be constructed without hearings from BAPE(Québec's environmental hearing agency). We are DEMANDING such a hearing. However, a few years back, the owners of the land (where the battery plant will be built) wanted a housing project; that housing project would have had to have BAPE hearings. Now the same land will not have a BAPE hearings because it is the pet project of the CAQ government. As we say in French; «cherchez l'erreur!» (where is there a mistake?)

I agree about the need for much better transit. However, residents in Eastern Montreal just caused a major extension of the new REM to be cancelled, despite the planners changing the route and redesigning some aspects to attemt to meet their demands. NIMBYism is a measurable hindrance to transit expansion in too many cases. The almighty car still dominates Montreal in spite of a decent Metro. This is similar to all Canadian cities.

Where were the protesters when freeways literally destroyed huge swaths of their city?

Batteries are not a viable permanent solution to replacing the propulsion systems of the world's entire car fleet. Peak car occurred sometime between 2015 and 2018 (depends on the source) primarily due to the build out of mass transit in Asia and Europe.

In North America replacing mobile internal combustion with battery-stored electricity at a 1:1 ratio is just not on. Enter public transit and higher quality human-scaled urbanism. But these solutions, as highly viable as they are, need public acceptance.

Replacing the very efficient and affordable REM regional rapid transit extension with slow mo street-running trams, as the protesting East Montreal residents (probably a minority pretending to speak for the majority) demanded, or a full bore underground Metro will not work. One is no more efficient than local buses stuck in traffic, and the other is so expensive the service will not be extended nearly as far, and residents will opt to continue driving a car.

EVs will at least break the addiction to gasoline and the oil sands, sever the personal yoke to Big Oil, and offer people who "need" to drive a car an option to save five figures over time on operating costs. Moreover, they could opt for an EV with major components built in Canada, like batteries. Let's hope EVs also increase the sales of compact cars and cause a drop in sales of big urban assault vehicles.

Meanwhile, governments at all levels need to crack through the unfair influence of too many NIMBYs who equate projects that even possess a lot of common good with the satanic factories of the 19th Century.

There is an even bigger problem with EV batteries and serviceability that is being ignored, but at least the EU has woken up to the same problem and is taking steps on this issue.

If you take the Tesla for example, the entire battery assembly is sealed and must be replaced should something fail in the assembly, there are no serviceable parts. That will cost you between $10,000 to $20,000 depending on the model or damage.

Then take the newer Volkswagen ID.4, the average cost is $500 to $800 to replace a battery. How can that be, at least in the EU with the latest model, every cell and module is serviceable apparently. Earlier versions apparently were not so lucky in serviceability. This is mentioned in an article by a company that can service EV battery units compared to a dealer who would replace the entire assembly only.

The Candian government needs to mandate that the battery assemblies must be serviceable by trained professionals, so individual cells or modules can be replaced to reduce costs and the environmental impact, versus replacing the entire assembly.

When shopping for an EV, battery assembly serviceability would be one of my criteria in choosing an EV, something that is ignored by most people. If ignored, owning an EV with become an expensive option, making fossil fuel vehicles more attractive from a cost of ownership perspective.

Excellent point, although I think it goes a bit outside the scope of this article.

There is far less to this article than meets the eye. The preamble is decent. But then it basically claims building battery factories is the same vis-a-vis climate change as building oil pipelines and LNG plants. This is asinine. I see this kind of article a lot, and they all boil down to: Building any given component of a green economy while the rest of the green economy hasn't been built yet isn't that green because the inputs come from the fossil fuel economy, therefore we shouldn't build any of them! This is stupid. Obviously you have to build the first bits of a green economy while most of the economy still relies on fossil fuels, but if you don't build those first bits you won't ever have a green economy, will you? The next bits you build will use as inputs the first bits you build, and gradually the construction of new things gets greener, but only if you take the first steps. Further, the more bits of green economy you build, the more political power the green lobby will gain relative to the fossil fuel lobby, and the greater the chance that governments will have to support the rest of the green economy. Reductive arguments about fossil fuel inputs just play into the hands of the oil barons; they are not just mistaken, but fundamentally wrongheaded and counterproductive.

There is essentially one solid argument that can be extracted from this article: Ontario should be building more renewable electricity supply instead of doubling down on burning methane. Well, yes, obviously. But the implication of that isn't that we should oppose battery factories, it's that Ontarians should kick out Doug Ford--a good idea for many, many reasons.

Excellent argument. It kinda boils down to, What will happen with respect to climate action if they DON'T build infrastructure for battery electric vehicles?

Exactly so; it's called transition, a work in progress, turning an ocean liner, etc. not to mention the daunting context of human nature's general aversion to change in principle, much exacerbated by the ubiquitous conservative element's borderline pathological take on it.
And then there's the POLITICAL context, how it truly IS the "art of the possible."

And here I was under the illusion that these battery plants would be powered by Ontario's legacy zero emission (in operations) nuclear power, just like the claims that their new green steel plants would be.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but if a massive build up of gas consumption is on the books, then new supply pipes will also be needed. Isn't Enbridge in legal trouble already in Northern US states where a pipeline transits on its way to Ontario? A new pipeline will take years to build, presumably not in time to fuel new battery plants, especially if it runs through US territory.

On exports, wasn't the plan to build these plants specifically oriented to qualify under North American trade rules for subsidies under Joe Biden's IRA policy, which is now having a profound effect on the US production of renewables and EVs?

Further, Chinese thermal coal imports peaked in 2021 concurrent with its own massive build up of renewables, putting a long term damper on LNG exports from BC.