There will be several notable absences among the World leaders attending the UN Climate Summit, in New York, on September 23. The Leaders of China, India, Germany and Canada will all be sending representatives. Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be attending the associated dinner and addressing the UN later that week. The real question isn’t wether Harper goes to the summit, but are he and the leaders of Canada’s two most western provinces seriously intending to confront Climate change? Will Canada stand against Climate Change?
“We have no time to waste. Climate change is already upon us and we need our governments to take immediate and far-reaching action,” said Jens Wieting of Sierra Club BC in a recent press release. “The number of people taking to the streets in New York and elsewhere shows rapidly growing concern about the scope of the problem and support for climate action and the shift to a low-carbon economy.”
In a report to the UN earlier this year, the Federal government revealed it expects Canadian emissions to be 38% higher by 2030.
The Primary reason is Alberta’s oil sands, which newly elected Premier Jim Prentice admits will get worse.
He never-the-less claims to be a big believer in renewable energy and intends to replace some of the aging coal plants, which produce 40% of the province’s emissions, with wind and solar.
However Alberta’s #1 priority is not fighting Climate Change, but finding markets for oil sands bitumen.
“Sometime around 2017, 2018, 2019 at the latest, we begin to run into a circumstance where there’s not enough pipeline capacity to absorb the energy that’s being produced in the province, and we start to get bottlenecks that will create the so-called differentials where we no longer get even continental prices but start to get deeply discounted prices instead,” Prentice told the Globe and Mail.
Wieting expressed his disappointment about Alberta’s position during an interview on the radio arm of the ECOreport, which will be aired next week.
“It is not logical to deal with one fuel and not the other,” he said. “Maybe several decades ago there was still room to deal with one fuel after another, but the most important message from the scientists is about our fast shrinking carbon budget … We are very close to these dangerous thresholds and discussions about whether we can afford to go a little longer with tar sands, or wether we can use LNG to reduce coal emissions, are not meaningful.”
Two of the proposed pipelines are in British Columbia, whose Premier publicly insists five conditions must be met before the province will consent.
BC’s Clean Energy Policies
A Ministry of Energy spokesperson said, “B.C. is committed to developing and implementing clean energy solutions. Hydro’s Integrated Resource Plan calls for B.C. to generate at least 93 per cent of the province`s electricity from clean or renewable resources.”
“Independent (run of the river) Power Projects currently supply about 20 per cent of the province`s energy needs,” he added.
“The largest solar project west of Ontario is set to open at the former Sullivan Mine site near Kimberley in January 2015. Renamed SunMine the site will have 4,000 solar cell modules and is the first solar project to have a purchase agreement with BC Hydro.”
The contract is for 1 MW of electricity, which scarcely touches the site’s potential. Thanks to its’ lofty elevation and +300 days of sunshine a year, this site is comparable to many in California! SunMine could become the largest solar project in North America, producing up to 200 MW!
If BC actually needs more energy – which is a very real question – SunMine is vastly preferable to projects like the site C dam. There is no need to flood valuable farmland; no need to risk breaking treaties with First Nations; no known damage to the surrounding ecosystem. SunMine is being built on an old mine site, a brown field area.
Germany’s 5 MW Battery Power Plant
The role renewable energy could play is demonstrated by Germany’s new 5 MW/MWh battery power plant.
According to Phillip Hiersemenzel, a spokesperson for Younicos (the developer), this plant will enable the grid to use an annual feed of up to 100% renewable energy.
Hiersemenzel said that Mecklenberg, which is serviced by the plant, already produces enough renewable energy to meet its’ needs.
The problem has been that systems using a fossil fuel back-up are limited to around 30% renewable content, because of the need to keep the back-up running.
“With the battery park they’ll definitely de-clog their grids, and be able to use a lot more of their renewables,”said . “Because batteries use all of their power (positive and negative) and because they are much faster and much more precise, our 5 MW unit replaces 50 MW of conventional generation capacity that would be AT THE VERY least required for the same +/- 5 MW!”
So are we looking at the birth of a 100% renewable grid?
“Definitely,” said Hiersemenzel. “The point here is that intelligent storage makes our grids more resilient, smarter and above all more efficient. It is also the into a renewable energy economy, because it enables the economic use of more renewables. And it pays!”
In response to this report, the BC spokesperson said, “The province is always interested in new and viable ways of producing power and it will be interesting to see how successful the unique German battery-based power project you referenced is moving forward.”
BC’s Real Energy Priority: Fossil Fuels
The real cornerstone of British Columbia’s energy policy appears to be fossil fuel development, rather than clean energy.
Despite public opposition, coal terminals in the Lower Mainland and on Texada Island are being expanded. There are questions about the legality of the way the province quietly issued the necessary permit for the latter.
“We see no other option than to take the government to court” said Donald Gordon of adjacent Lasqueti Island. “The Province has ignored evidence of ongoing coal contamination (photo below), rejected the pleas of public health officials, dismissed citizens’ and First Nations’ call for an independent environmental assessment of this project, and refused to apply its own pollution prevention laws under the Environmental Management Act. We cannot sit back and watch while this massive coal export facility is illegally authorized without adequate review.”
Regardless of her public stance, Premier Christy Clark’s Government quietly changed the law so that pipeline companies can conduct feasibility studies in the province’s public parks.
Now Kinder Morgan wants to push the Trans Mountain pipeline through three BC parks. If approved, this will mean removing land from Finn Creek Provincial Park, North Thompson River Provincial Park and Lac Du Bois Grasslands Protected Area.
(The National Energy Board will not give cabinet its final recommendation on the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline extension until January 25, 2016.)
Clark is not asking British Columbians about her trillion dollar dream of fracking the province.
According to the Pembina Institute, to meet the province’s revenue projections BC will have to build around five natural gas plants and process around 1,200 LNG tankers a year.
This would drastically increase BC’s emissions, adding the equivalent of 3/4 the GHG produced by the oil sands.
According to the provincial government’s newsroom, BC is presently on track with its Action plan and “reached its first greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 6% below 2007 levels by 2012.”
In our radio interview, Wieting pointed out that this calculation does not include emissions from coal or gas exports, or the carbon released when forests are clear-cut. Sierra Club BC estimates that the province’s emissions are four times greater than what is being reported.
“While B.C. has taken some initial steps to reduce emissions, our government is ignoring the climate implications of building new fossil fuel projects,” said Wieting. “The province’s full carbon footprint will skyrocket if we build the proposed coal mines, LNG terminals and pipelines. There is another path. If we want a future with a liveable climate, we need decision-makers to pursue renewable energy projects. ”
He laid out three steps the province could take to do this:
- Stop issuing permits for building new fossil fuel infrastructure, including coal mines, LNG terminals and new oil and gas pipelines.
- Increase the carbon tax and expand it to fossil fuel exports, using revenues for social and environmental programs
- Shift subsidies for fossil fuel industries to create jobs in the renewable energy sector, energy efficiency programs, public transit, forestry and conservation jobs
Canadian Government Inaction
It seems unlikely that Premier Clark will undertake any of the actions Wieting suggests.
So far, the governments of BC, Alberta and Canada have shown little will to take decisive actions against Climate Change. There is too much money in fossil fuels.
My question is what can we do about it?
In a letter to the Montreal Gazette, the spokesperson for a group of 53 Canadian researchers wrote, “In the upcoming 2015 election, Canadians will have an opportunity to demand that politicians and parties protect Canada’s social well-being, economic competitiveness and extraordinary environmental assets by addressing climate change.”
More than a half million people, across North America, are expected to make their opinion known through people’s climate marches. Around 100 of these events are in Canada.
The largest on the West Coast is from 1 – 3 pm, Saturday September 20 at the Peace Arch crossing. Speakers will include representatives from the Tsleil-Waututh Sacred Trust, the Semiahmoo First Nation, and the Lummi Nation. Click on this link to learn more.
I do not know what will come out of the Climate summit in New York, but The U.N. hopes to obtain commitments for emission cuts that could be part of a global agreement to be approved at the U.N. climate talks in Paris in 2015.
Images, (in descending order):
- (top) Visit by the Secretary-General to the newly renovated GA Hall. – Courtesy United Nations
- Premier Jim Prentice addresses the gathering after the swearing-in ceremony at Government House in Edmonton, September 15, 2014. (Government of Alberta) – Courtesy Premier Jim Prentice, CC by SA, 2.0
- PM Harper-Sign or Resign (2009 photo regarding Kyoto Accord) – Courtesy Travis Ford, CC by SA, 2.0
- Victoria, BC at night – Courtesy Robin Zebrowski, CC by SA, 2.0
- WEMAG Luftbild Batteriespeicher – Courtesy Younicos
- Coal contamination: coal gathered up in an hour on the Beach at Texada Island, BC. (There is not supposed to be any coal there.)
- Projected increase to BC’s emissions from LNG Development – Courtesy the Pembina Institute
- Climate Change knows no Border poster