Why a common energy policy ?
For some reasons, electricity dominates discussions and reflexions about energy policies. This was the case in Ontario, for example, even though, except for Quebec, electricity represents only about 20 % of all energy use.
A number of other energy issues are possibly much more relevant in a common energy policy, as I present below.
Global warming is probably the most important challenge facing humanity today as it will affect our capacity to provide food and shelter to large parts of the world population.
Energy is the dominant greenhouse gas producing sector in the world and in Canada. Since the federal governement refuses to take the lead on this issue, there are strong reasons while the Eastern provinces should work together to develop a common position (with adapted goals and approaches).
- Work together to develop common position on reducing GHG emissions and putting into place goals, targets and programs
- Work together to develop ways to protect current and plan new infrastructures in the light of the currently prediction climatic changes
Kevin Lynch, from BMO Financial Group, in a recent op-ed in the Globe and Mail suggested that energy corridors be established to facilitate the transport of energy accross Canada. The lack of infrastructure is visible with all energy sources : gas, oil and electricity.
Yet, populations are less willing than ever to see transport lines split territories and to be submitted to risks without any direct benefit. While not all Eastern provinces are touched the same way, it is a national and regional issue that might gain a lot from a common reflection regarding procedures, compensations, etc.
Exchanging natural gas for hydroelectricity
A back of the envelop calculation suggests that energy gains by exchanging electricity for gas in heating Quebec and lighting up Ontario would result in a roughly 15 % increase in the gas efficiency. More precise calculation is needed, but the gain is certainly less than many suggest. It would be therefore necessary to establish also what would the economic gain (and who would benefit) from this exchange.
Energy-source specific issues
- rail transport - position the provinces who are closer to the populations but also who, in the event of an accident, have to foot most of the bills - regarding safety rules, compensations, training of local safety teams, etc.
- pipelines - develop a common position on their role in approving pipelines as well as compensations and, possibly, royalties.
How shoud these be viewed in light of global warming ? Should and can the Eastern provinces adopt a common position here ?
The possible presence of oil in the the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence should not simply be a matter between Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec. Given the possible consequences of an oil spill, it should involve all provinces on the Gulf, which is, in effect, a small interior sea. A common discussion on safety, energy risks and possible compensations should certainly be taking place before any further exploration.
The possible conversion of a major gas line in Ontario by TransCanada could limit considerably access to this energy source in the Eastern part of Ontario and in Quebec. Given the low costs of the resource and its industrial interest, clearly the two provinces would gain into working together to ensure access to natural gas.
Since the geology of shales seems to differ considerably between provinces, it is not so clear that a common approach would be fitting. However, given the common limited knowledge about this new energy source, there might be some gains into working together for collecting information and following what is happening around the world.
Although it generally represents only about 20 % of all energy consummed, electricity receives the lion’s share of most attention when discussing energy policy.
There are a number of issues associated with electricity in Eastern Canada, many of these issues are really cross border.
- Newfoundland and Labrador : Churchill Falls, the development of Muskrat Falls and the Maritime Transmission Link speak to the challenges faced by the province in benefitting from its hydroelectric power.
- Nova Scotia : Also affected by the Muskrat Falls and related transmission link project.
- Prince Edward Island : Has made the move to wind energy in 2008 with current capacity of 173 MW
- New Brunswick : With the recent upgrade of Pointe Lepreau nuclear plant, interprovincial issues are not so important
- Quebec : How to benefit from enormous surpluses of renewable electricity
- Ontario : What do do with its nuclear plants ; how to handle intermittent renewable
Transport and Interconnects
This point has been discussed a few times. New lines are particularly difficult to pass nowadays. Yet, increasing exchanges between provinces would require new interconnects and transport lines.
With the upgrade of the and the closing of the Gentilly-2 power plant, nuclear energy is now pretty much an Ontarian question. The decisions made with respect to nuclear energy in Ontario will nevertheless impact neighbours. In that sense, its becomes a matter of interest for interprovincial discussions.
In large parts, the handling of intermittent renewables in Ontario and Quebec can be considered anywhere between an economic failure and a financial disaster. Can we learn something from this adventure ?
While challenges vary for the different questions raised above. The main one is clearly political : is there a will to sit down and address these issues ?
Only second, will come the economic, technical and environmental aspects.