Canada’s clean energy transition is underway but provinces holding much of the power to instigate change aren’t all pulling their weight, says a new report.

To highlight “leaders and laggards,” the think tank Clean Energy Canada graded each province after examining four areas: clean energy, clean buildings, clean transportation, and clean industry. The assessment included big picture policies like electricity planning and targeted actions like EV and heat pump rebates, for example.

The provinces have considerable authority over their economic and environmental futures, yet the federal government has covered 80 per cent of the cost of Canadian climate action, according to the report.

Clean electricity is central to all transition efforts, as widespread electrification of our homes, cars and the economy will cause electricity generation to double or even triple by 2050. The federal government aims to achieve a non-emitting electricity grid by 2035.

But Alberta and Saskatchewan – two provinces with electricity grids that heavily rely on fossil fuels – have repeatedly said it's impossible to decarbonize their electricity systems by 2035 and instead, say they will aim for 2050.

These provinces were the only two to score the lowest possible ranking on the Clean Energy Canada scorecard.

The Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut were not graded because of the unique challenges these jurisdictions face. Screenshot of the Clean Energy Canada scorecard

Alberta isn’t living up to its potential to be a renewable energy power house, stated the report. Under Premier Danielle Smith, the United Conservative Party introduced restrictions on renewables development last year.

Electricity is another weak spot. Alberta has no strategic approach to decarbonizing its electricity sector and lacks a provincial energy strategy and or plan to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the full economy by 2050, according to the report.

Canada’s clean energy transition is underway, but provinces holding much of the power to instigate change aren’t all pulling their weight, according to a report by @cleanenergycan. The report grades all the provinces from A+ to D.

Alberta also lacks measures to support electric vehicle uptake, make buildings more energy efficient or help Albertans use less energy.

Saskatchewan also has wind and solar resources aplenty, and some high-level plans to bring more online by 2035, but the report says it is still falling behind other provinces in expanding the renewables sector. Expanding gas electricity generation is in the utility’s plans and the province has poor energy planning overall, the report noted. As well, the government doesn’t provide any rebates to help residents switch to heat pumps or purchase EVs.

The report said both Alberta and Saskatchewan could have “the fastest growing clean energy sectors in the country in terms of jobs, with gains in clean energy far outpacing fossil fuel losses.”

Quebec was the only province to earn an “A” grade, largely due to its clean electricity grid, plans to meet electricity demand, “best-in-class” EV policies and ambitions to expand clean industries like battery manufacturing. Ninety-nine per cent of Quebec’s electricity is generated from hydro and wind power. It is also the province with the lowest electricity rates.

Quebec could achieve a near perfect score if it improved building codes and low-carbon construction policies, the report said.

British Columbia boasted the second-best score: a “B.” Like Quebec, B.C. has strong EV policies, including EV rebates and ambitious sales mandates. B.C. is another hydro-powered province, with 90 per cent of its electricity coming from hydro generation in 2022.

However, the report says BC Hydro’s energy planning is disconnected from reality and provides insufficient detail on how it will meet power demands of existing climate policies or in future when emissions hit net-zero by 2050.

The only other province to score a “B” was Canada’s tiniest: Prince Edward Island. PEI’s score was bolstered by its excellent heat pump programs.

The rest of the provinces received “C” grades, with individual strengths and weaknesses varying by jurisdiction.

Ontario’s moves to expand the EV supply chain netted it good grades for its industrial strategy. It also helps that its electricity grid is mostly nuclear and hydro. But weaker scores in transportation and buildings dragged its overall grade down to a “C.”

In 2018, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government repealed EV rebates and building code requirements that would ensure large apartment buildings and other structures include EV-charging infrastructure.

Ontario has done a better job creating an energy strategy than many provinces, including moves to expand renewables and battery storage, but at the same time, the province is expanding gas-fired electricity generation and helping Enbridge lock in new gas infrastructure which would increase planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite 97 per cent of Manitoba’s electricity being generated from hydro power, the province received a “C” because it lacks a detailed, climate-aligned energy strategy. Premier Wab Kinew has stated the province will aim to achieve a net-zero electricity grid by 2035, but plans have yet to be released. Industrial demand for electricity means the province will either have to pick and choose projects or find a way to bring a lot more clean electricity online. Manitoba recently introduced a new EV rebate which helped boost its score in the transportation category.

Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia also scored in the middle of the pack.

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are two of four provinces trying to phase out coal-fired electricity. Both have good energy efficiency and retrofit programs and EV rebates, although New Brunswick’s rebates are more generous and it also provides charging incentives. New Brunswick has the “most comprehensive energy strategy in the country after Quebec,” according to the report. It says this includes a significant buildout of renewables, energy storage, and distributed generation. Nova Scotia has approved five wind projects and is considering hydrogen projects and offshore wind.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s “continued focus on oil and gas investments… is holding back greater focus on the sustainable economy,” reads the report. The province has excellent heat pump rebates – between $9,000 and $22,000 depending on eligibility – but action on EVs and public transportation is weak.

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Keep reading

I hate to say it, but the BC government doesn't deserve that "B"; I'm kind of surprised the promotion of Liquid Natural Gas facilities wasn't mentioned.

It's vitally important to start building out renewables at the national scale. If there was a federally owned national smart grid, then each province woyld have the choice to tap into it or not, to export, make withdrawals or both.

Some provinces will choose not to flip the switch at multiple interties along a federal clean energy corridor, but it's still important to enable that choice.