Where am I published?
My publications are concentrated on PVBuzz.com, where I’m a freelance contributor. I provide unique perspectives on contemporary Canadian politics, with a focus on health, environment and energy policy. I also provide ghost writing and copywriting services for commercial clients affiliated with PV Buzz Media, such as HPQ Silicon.
My work on PVBuzz.com is locked behind a paywall; however, I’ve provided several article drafts below that are accessible.
Is Canada’s Carbon Tax Enough to Fight Climate Change?
As Canada’s 2019 Federal election looms closer, carbon pricing has shown itself to be a highly contested and divisive issue. Since the Federal Liberals announced their carbon pricing plan, it’s dominated the conversation surrounding climate change. The NDP and Greens back the Federal Liberal’s proposal, whereas the Conservatives do not, meaning the issue has fallen down a left/right, partisan split.
Among experts, there’s a policy consensus that carbon pricing should play an integral role in moving the world towards decarbonization. Unfortunately, the political sphere is lagging behind, primarily due to Provincial and Federal Conservative resistance. Since 2018, the Canadian public has gradually moved toward embracing carbon pricing, with more than 50% of Canadian’s voicing support for the Federal Liberal’s plan.
Due to the divisiveness of carbon pricing, there has been significantly less coverage paid to other focal points of reducing emissions. While carbon pricing represents an important aspect of a successful climate change plan, it must be accompanied by a host of other incentives, initiatives and investments. Without a comprehensive plan, Canada won’t be able to meet the Paris Climate Accord targets, let alone become a global leader on climate change.
In April of 2019, the Liberal’s carbon price officially came into effect. The initial price is $20/ton of carbon, rising annually by $10/ton until the price is $50/ton by 2022. While the initial price of $20/ton is far too low to spur the kind of climate action needed to avoid a catastrophe, the annual price increase serves as a way of achieving a more impactful price, while offering markets the time to adjust to increased production costs. The carbon pricing leadership coalition estimates that for countries to meet their 2030 targets, a carbon price between $50-$100/ton must be established, barring other emission reduction policies. This estimate is also made on the assumption that global emissions will not rise any higher.
Trudeau’s Liberals have been keen to claim that their carbon pricing plan will make Canada a global leader on climate change, but this is far from true. Canada currently leads the G7 nations in oil and gas subsidies, with an estimate of 3.3 billion dollars being given out in 2016 alone. This level of subsidizing works out to paying oil and gas producers roughly $19 per ton of carbon emitted. Unfortunately, finding more recent figures on oil and gas subsidies is particularly challenging, as Canada has refused to publish documentation of the true costs of their subsidies. Out of the G7 nations, Canada currently sits in 6th place regarding transparency. In 2017, the auditor general criticized Trudeau’s government for failing to provide information on inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. Subsidizing fossil fuels directly undermines carbon pricing, and has contributed to the slow progress Canada has made on developing more renewable energy.
Canada has also continued to develop fossil fuel infrastructure, such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX) or British Columbia’s liquified natural gas project (LNG). The impacts of massive subsidies combined with the continued development of fossil fuel infrastructure has left Canada’s climate policies significantly undermined, and the Paris Accord targets far from reach.
Although Trudeau’s government likes to tout carbon pricing as the solution to climate change, it’s clear that without substantial changes in subsidies and government investments, Canada will continue to be an environmental laggard. The greatest shortcoming of carbon pricing and similar emission reduction strategies has been the inadequate prices and targets being set. If Canada wants to provide subsidies, and continue to develop fossil fuel projects, the carbon price must rise much higher than $50/ton by 2022. This is highly unlikely to occur however, as even the low price of $20/ton has caused major political backlash.
The political struggle over carbon pricing comes at a crucial junction in history. Just last year, the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) reported that the world’s emission reduction targets aren’t ambitious enough. The Paris Climate Accord targets aim to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius; however, the report published by the IPCC suggests 1.5 degrees as the warming threshold. At the current level of progress being achieved, Canada will inevitably miss the targets designed to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Currently, Canada lacks the political will to raise the price of carbon to a sufficient degree. That being said, this problem is not unique to Canada. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that the vast majority of countries enacting carbon prices are doing so at levels too low to significantly curb climate change.
While carbon pricing is an important step for long term decarbonization, there are plenty of strategies that work in tandem with carbon pricing to effectively reduce emissions. First and foremost, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and replacing them with renewable energy subsidies will provide industry incentives without undermining carbon pricing. This is an area Canada is particularly weak on, as Trudeau has continued his predecessor’s trend of providing minuscule funding for green industry. Carbon sinks, such as Canada’s boreal forest, are also critical in the fight against climate change. Per hectare, Canada’s boreal forest stores nearly twice as much carbon as tropical counterparts. Redeveloping carbon sinks through reforestation is cheap, efficient and a critical tool in mitigating the impacts of climate change.
There are also certain social policies that can be implemented to help cut down emissions. Expanding public transit, lowering the cost, or making it free to use encourages reductions in transportation-related greenhouse gases (GHG), the second largest contributor in Canada. Increasing electric vehicle (EV) rebates and expanding charging stations are also successful ways of reducing GHG from the transportation sector. Creating more stringent energy efficiency standards in construction, and providing significant funding for retrofit programs can help reduce the amount of energy required for heating and cooling. Finally, it’s about time politicians address agricultural emissions. The production of meat is not only energy and water intensive, but also produces vast quantities of methane, which is far more dangerous to the climate than carbon dioxide. Promoting non-meat alternatives through subsidies or research and development funding could help expand consumer’s food choices.
Carbon pricing is far from a blanket solution to climate change, but it offers an opportunity to use market-based tools to address the world’s most pressing issue. The ability of carbon pricing to be successful is largely dependent on the ambition of the carbon price set, and the implementation of other collaborative environmental initiatives. The 2019 Federal election will see climate change and carbon pricing be highly contested issues, but it’s important to keep the conversation surrounding climate change from being consumed by carbon pricing. Solving climate change will require a comprehensive plan that addresses social, economic and environmental combatant strategies, and carbon pricing is the mere tip of the iceberg when it comes to solutions.
Canada’s 2019 Election is a Win for Green Energy
In less than 100 days, Canadian voters will head to the polls to decide the next 4-year mandate. Likely, this means choosing between Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, or Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives. For many businesses, the familiar feeling of election uncertainty looms in the air. Industries which are supported primarily along partisan lines, such as renewable energy, know that a changing mandate often forecasts trouble. Frequent policy changes tend to create uncertainty in markets, which can stunt industry growth. Since climate change, and as an extension, solar energy, have become partisan issues, a change in government could mean sudden destruction of industry supports. To varying degrees, Canadian left-wing parties are supportive of incentives to increase solar production and reduce emissions. In contrast, the right-wing parties generally favor reducing or eliminating the supports for green energy. With this contentious split in policy, it’s not hard to understand why green business owners and investors become wary during election time.
Yet for green energy, this election season is different, as it’s already marked an ideological win for green energy. Public opinion has swayed substantially in the direction of the left-wing approach to climate. That is, the public wants to see climate change and other environmental issues addressed. According to an abacus poll conducted on July 15, climate change has broken the top 3 issues list for Canadian voters. This is in line with other polls, which have consistently shown that climate change and the environment have quickly become central issues for Canadian voters. This is likely due to the ever-increasing visibility of the issue. Heatwaves, flooding and erratic seasonal weather seem to be the new norm and saturate the news media. High profile individuals, such as Greta Thunberg, have also fought to increase the awareness of the importance of mitigating climate change. Largely, Thunberg’s efforts have been successful, as her protest “Fridays for Future” has become a global phenomenon, with students all across Canada taking part. For the first time, millennials will also make up the largest voting bloc in the Canadian election. Millennials overwhelmingly favor decisive climate action, yet are prone to election apathy. Regardless, this demographic change has contributed to the transformation of Canada’s political landscape.
As the Canadian electorate makes clear the environment is not an issue that can be ignored any longer, the federal parties are taking notice. The Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Greens have all released their environmental platforms. While there are significant differences among each of the plans, it’s clear that all of the parties understand the importance voters are placing on the environment. It’s a sad reality that political parties are responding to a changing electorate rather than a changing climate, but regardless, this is good news.
Under the leadership of Andrew Scheer, the Conservative party has altered its messaging regarding the environment. The Conservatives have long been the party of fossil fuels, but in the current political climate, the party has worked to appear as a middle-ground option. The Conservative environmental plan, dubbed “A Real Plan to Protect Our Environment,” puts a heavy emphasis on innovation and technology. It establishes several key initiatives, such as a green home tax credit, a green patent credit, a green technology and innovation fund, and a green hub for innovators. Unfortunately, while the Conservative party’s rhetoric has become greener, the party’s policy still leaves much to be desired. The core initiatives of the plan may support green business innovation, but they don’t ensure a concrete reduction in carbon emissions. The entire plan is devoid of any estimates or targets. Euphemisms are also riddled throughout, such as the line “carbon emissions are a global problem.” This is nothing more than an excuse to rid a country of domestic responsibility, and tends to be coupled with support for exporting fracked natural gas. Recent studies have shown that fracking is much more dangerous to the climate than previously thought, with some scientists even claiming the carbon footprint rivals that of coal. The Conservative plan also fails to mention anything regarding single-use plastics, which are contributing to the collapse of global biodiversity.
While “A Real Plan to Protect Our Environment” is nowhere near sufficient to adequately mitigate climate change, the shift in party messaging shows the Conservatives understand the changing electorate. One danger of having mismatched rhetoric and policy is that if the Conservatives win the election, it will be nearly impossible for Andrew Scheer to walk the appeasement tightrope between Western Canada and environmentally conscious voters.
On the other end of the environmental policy spectrum lies the Green Party, which has enjoyed a modest bump in support in the last couple of years. The Greens have released an ambitious and comprehensive plan that addresses several aspects of climate change. The plan, titled “Mission Possible,” outlines several key objectives. Among them is a bi-partisan war cabinet to tackle the partisanship which has stalled climate action. “Mission Possible” would double the Liberals 2030 goal of reducing emissions by 30% of 2005 levels, to 60%. The plan would eliminate all fossil fuel subsidies, ensure all vehicle production is electric by 2030, place a nationwide ban on fracking and promote the redevelopment of Canada’s forests, among other things.
The growing political influence of Elizabeth May’s Green Party has begun to apply significant pressure to the other federal parties. Jagmeet Singh and the Federal NDP recently faced questions over their support of fracking, as the party had expressed support for the liquified natural gas (LNG) plant in British Columbia. The Greens have been eating away at NDP support across the country, with some high profile NDP members, such as former MP Sven Robinson, criticizing the NDP’s lack of environmental ambition. One week after losing a byelection to the Green’s Paul Manly, the Federal NDP released a statement saying “the future of Canada does not include fracking.” This rapid shift in policy demonstrates the pressure an ever-growing Green Party can apply in Canada’s political arena. The NDP and Liberals are now fighting for environmental credibility, with Prime Minister Trudeau announcing a ban on single-use plastics as a part of the Liberal reelection platform.
The 2019 federal election may have yet to be decided, though it’s already marked an important victory for green energy. Canadian voters are increasingly in favour of decarbonizing, as the public’s frustration with irresponsible fossil fuel development grows. As global environmental crises continue to accelerate in severity, the popularity of green energy will only rise. Renewable energy providers should celebrate, as their business opportunities are practically guaranteed exponential growth. On the other hand, fossil fuel companies should be terrified. Public sentiment has turned, and the era of fossil fuels is rapidly closing.
Making the Case for a Canada-Wide Solar Incentive
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In just a few short months, the coronavirus pandemic has profoundly destabilized the world’s economies and brought on a devastating recession sure to have lasting impacts. Governments around the world have scrambled to unload a tsunami of government expenditure and social programs to avoid economic collapse. Where countries choose to direct this expenditure will have serious structural and economic implications moving forward, heightening the pressure on incumbent governments to make the right decisions.
Canada’s left-leaning Liberal Party has been applauded for its response to Covid-19, which has prioritized public health over reopening the economy. As a direct result, Canada has experienced less economic turmoil than other nations and has successfully “flattened” the country’s curve. In contrast, the United States disregarded expert opinion, sought to prioritize the economy over public health, and has subsequently failed on both counts.
The Liberal’s post-pandemic recovery plan has been far from perfect, though. Investment in cleantech is not even close to on par with fossil fuels, creating a rift between Liberal platform policy and actual government policy. This is despite the pandemic providing an excellent opportunity to rapidly decarbonize, thanks to low-interest rates and the public’s willingness to allow governments to spend seemingly endless amounts of money. For ideas on how to stimulate cleantech, Trudeau’s Liberals should look south at the American solar investment tax credit (ITC).
The ITC is a federal policy mechanism that encourages the production of solar energy in the United States. It offers a rebate for solar installations that can be applied dollar for dollar towards an individual’s income tax. Currently, the rebate is 26% of the cost of a solar module. Since the ITC’s enactment in 2006, the American solar industry has grown by more than 10,000%. Continued renewal of the ITC has provided stability for cleantech innovators and investors, producing jobs and helping to lower electricity costs by driving market competition. The ITC is an excellent example of a public policy success story, with solar energy now making up 2.5% of energy production across the United States. This is well above Canada, which garners 0.5% of its electricity from solar power. A key strength of the American ITC is that it’s a federally administered program, allowing any homeowner to take advantage of it. This has permitted solar production to bypass partisan and ideological concerns that would harm the industry’s growth.
Unfortunately, in Canada, solar production incentives have not been able to bypass the country’s political arena with the same success. This is because there exists no federal framework promoting renewables. Clean energy incentives are up to the discretion of each province, which has provided relatively little stability for the industry and made the production of solar energy far more partisan than it should be. Ontario is an excellent example of this. Before the 2018 provincial election (which saw Doug Ford’s Conservatives win), the Liberal government of Ontario, under the leadership of Kathleen Wynne, aggressively pushed solar incentives. Wynne’s government developed the Micro-FIT program, which subsidized solar production on residential properties above market rates. Unfortunately, the design of the program made it easy to abuse. The program will cost billions of dollars because of long-term contracts, while only providing roughly 0.3% of Ontario’s electricity generation. After the Liberal defeat in 2018, all solar and green energy incentives were torn up, severely damaging Ontario’s clean energy market. While the Micro-FIT program ultimately failed, it demonstrated how incentives are capable of electrifying the solar market. This principle should be applied on the federal level to boost the demand for cleantech in every province, regardless of political culture.
Trudeau’s Liberal Party may not be as green as they’ve lead on, but legislating a Pan-Canada solar rebate framework would significantly improve their track record on environmental initiatives. Internal disagreements between Finance Minister Morneau and Prime Minister Trudeau about the scope of funding for green projects have recently come to light. It highlights the growing focus within the Liberal Party to address climate change and other environmental challenges. Trudeau has argued in favor of more spending for green projects, whereas Morneau has opposed such measures, deeming them too costly. On this issue, Trudeau’s intuition is serving him well.
Adopting a Canada wide solar rebate would make for an incredibly efficient investment into the government’s post-pandemic recovery, as it would accomplish a myriad of social, economic, and environmental goals. First and foremost, a federal solar rebate would boost the demand for cleantech, producing thousands of much-needed jobs. A federal solar rebate would also increase the share of renewable energy in Canada’s electrical grid. Supporting the development of net-zero homes is another benefit that a solar rebate would produce. Net-zero homes are those that are so energy efficient, they only use as much electricity as is produced from on-site renewables. This policy would help Canada progress towards achieving its goals under the Paris Climate Accord, in which it’s agreed to reduce emissions by 30% of 1990 levels by 2030. Trudeau’s Liberals have repeatedly said that they’re on track to meet this goal; however, this claim is misleading. Finally, a national solar rebate would improve community health, wellness, and help promote energy independence.
Designing and administering such a comprehensive policy would be highly complex. As such, it would be in the best interest of Canada’s government to deliver this kind of rebate through a new independent government agency. The independent agency would ideally be responsible for administering the program, certifying and monitoring companies performing solar installations, developing regulations for the solar industry, and ensuring compliance. Existing organizations, such as the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) in Ontario, are already plagued by internal complexities and bureaucracy, making them less suitable for handling such a policy.
The coronavirus pandemic has provided an excellent opportunity for world leaders to make great strides in fighting climate change. A federal solar rebate program would make for a worthy investment, as it would provide thousands of jobs and give homeowners a way to reduce their bills, improve their health, and fight climate change. Trudeau’s Liberals should not pass this opportunity up.
Underwhelming Investments in Renewables by Trudeau’s Liberals
After nearly 10 years of the Harper government’s “all-in-approach” on fossil fuel development, the election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals was seen as an exciting opportunity and step forward for the green economy in Canada. Expectations ran high as Trudeau emphasized balancing the economy and environment, with signature promises being made such as the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies.
It’s now the end of the Liberal’s first term, with the last budget before the election (budget 2019), having been recently presented. While there are several new programs aimed at providing support for certain green industries, the latest budget still demonstrates a pattern of underwhelming funding for renewable energy, clean tech and green industry incentives in Canada.
The 2019 budget tables some good ideas, such as a $5000 rebate on electric vehicles under the price tag of 45,000 dollars, new funding for electric charging stations, and a whopping 1.01 billion dollars to help the Federation of Canadian municipalities retrofit community and residential buildings for energy efficiency. Unfortunately, much of the funding for these programs is contingent on the re-election of the Liberals, which is becoming seemingly less likely everyday.
Elizabeth May, leader of the Federal Green Party, weighed in on the budget’s green industry and climate change measures, saying it’s attempts to spur action on climate change are “pathetic.” To stress her point, May compared the federal government’s investments for green industry incentives with the purchase of the rights to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX). The Liberals invested 4.5 billion dollars into a single pipeline expansion. To contrast, the latest budget tables a combined total of 1.4 billion dollars over 5 years for green industry incentives. The entirety of the budget that goes towards green programs accounts for a mere 31% of what was paid for the TMX. This highlights that the Liberal’s messaging and action when it comes to the environment is highly contradictory.
The spending pattern of the Liberals show that while the government understands the need for green investments, there’s still a deeply rooted belief that fossil fuel projects must continue to be developed. In comparison with the prior conservative government, there has been significant progress on the front of supporting green industries. However, the progress that’s been made simply isn’t as profound as the governing Liberal’s like to present.
Analyzing the progress green industries, like solar and wind, have made under Trudeau, is best done by looking at Canada’s progress on its climate change goals. Whereas the Liberal’s often brag about having achieving a balanced economy and environment, the statistics of Canada’s emission reductions paint a different story, one which demonstrates a substantial lack of strength in Canadian green industry.
As recently as January 2019, the Liberal’s own estimates showed a growing climate gap (how much Canada is projected to miss its emission reduction targets by). The latest projection is that Canada will miss its target by roughly 78 megatonnes of carbon, even as Canada’s largest Province has successfully phased out coal power over the last decade.
Ontario’s phasing out of coal power offered tremendous potential growth in renewable energy. Unfortunately, the potential has not been realized, as a pattern of under-investments in green industry, and substantial developments in the oil and gas sector have continued. A significant amount of the progress Canada has made towards fighting climate change has actually been undone by further developments from both provincial and federal governments in oil and gas. This pattern of under investment in green industries long predates Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, they just haven’t improved the situation by a significant measure.
The Liberal’s failure to properly invest in a clean economy has also allowed a substantial cool off in private investments to occur. Many provincial and federal subsidies and programs, such as Ontario’s feed-in-tariff program, were wound down between 2010 and 2015. The lack of new federal investment since has, as Amy Grace, head of research at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, puts it, led to a “total destruction of the market.”
Since 2015, private investment in clean technologies has fallen by half. Certain external factors, such as China’s slowing demand for renewable energy, have contributed to this. Trudeau’s Liberal’s however, have consistently failed to address the lack of investment through green incentive programs in their budgets, with their latest following suit. If anything, the trend of decreasing private investments should have served as an indicator that the federal government needed to ramp up it’s spending on green programs. Had the Liberal’s placed a higher priority on stimulating green industry, significantly greater progress towards developing a green economy could have been achieved over the past four years.
Trudeau’s first term has seen mixed results when it comes to developing green industry in Canada. With a significant lack of funding for clean tech incentives, further investments and subsidies in the fossil fuel industry, and an ever-growing climate gap, it’s clear that Trudeau has postured his Liberal Party to appear significantly greener than it actually is. The question remains whether or not voters will see past the smoke in the upcoming federal election.
Is Alberta’s Solar Market Safe from Jason Kenney?
Since 2015, Alberta’s been the hottest place in Canada to invest in renewable energy. This is evident when looking at the growth projections, which show that since 2015, the green energy industry has exploded with 500% growth. The rapid growth of the industry can largely be credited to Rachel Notley’s NDP, who was swept into power with a majority government back in 2015. Since the election, the NDP has introduced a number of programs aimed at boosting the demand for renewable energy throughout the Province. Energy Efficiency Alberta, an initiative funded by the NDP’s provincial carbon tax, is one of many programs offering Albertans increased opportunities to make the switch to green energy. The primary incentives provided are rebates for residential, commercial and non-profit solar installations.
The NDP’s time in power has certainly bolstered the growth of green industry; however, with a volatile election taking place in a matter of days, it’s uncertain whether or not the NDP will remain in power.
The frontrunner for replacing Notley is Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party. Parallels are often drawn between Jason Kenney and Ontario’s Doug Ford, both of whom are unapologetically conservative, and ideologically driven. For green industry in Alberta, the most troubling similarity between the two leaders is their anti-renewable energy sentiment.
When Doug Ford came into power in 2018, he immediately began unravelling the former government’s progress on developing a strong renewable energy market in Ontario. Ford’s cancellation of 758 long term renewable energy contracts, electric vehicle (EV) rebates, the green energy act, cap and trade as well as vehicle emission standards demonstrated his government’s apathy towards assisting the development of green industry. The implemented cuts resulted in a dramatic weakening of the market, especially for electric vehicles. Soon after the cuts were announced, Tesla sued Ontario’s government and won, forcing Ford’s conservatives to do a U-turn on the scrapping of EV rebates.
Now enters Jason Kenney, a good friend of Ford whose energy platform is eerily similar. Some of Kenney’s main platform points include scrapping of the carbon tax and all carbon tax funded projects, cutting so called “red tape” regulation, and letting renewable energy compete in the market without any subsidies. While Kenney has indicated he intends to follow through with “good faith” renewable energy contracts, there has been no specification towards what constitutes “good faith.” This purposeful lack of a definition leaves the door open for a potential Kenney government to wreak havoc on Alberta’s long-term renewable energy contracts, much as Ford did at the beginning of his term.
Kenney has vowed not to repeat the “mistakes” of Ontario’s government under Kathleen Wynne, which provided renewable energy producers a guaranteed rate far surpassing that of the market. Alberta however, uses an auction system as a way of awarding contracts to renewable energy producers. This has allowed for significant growth in the industry, without being forced to offer absurdly high subsidies as incentives for companies to produce.
By engaging renewable energy producers in a competitive auctioning process that promises low rates, but long-term contracts, Rachel Notley has managed to secure Alberta the lowest rates in Canada for renewable energy. Early in 2019, Notley’s NDP signed a 20-year contract with Canadian Solar Solutions to develop 100 megawatts of power in Southern Alberta. The cost is a mere 4.8 cents per kilowatt hour, even lower than the market rate for natural gas, which (before factoring in the carbon tax) sits at 5.4 cents per kilowatt hour. The total savings for the Albertan government total 3.9 million dollars annually. The importance of these long-term contracts cannot be understated, as they allow for the fostering of a stable market environment, one that’s ripe for investors. The high upfront capital cost of green energy projects has long hindered the ability of renewable energy to compete with fossil fuels. However, Alberta’s bidding process has allowed for renewable energy to demonstrate that it’s the socially, environmentally and economically responsible type of energy to pursue.
Competitive auctioning has allowed Alberta to transform into what Ontario used to be: the renewable energy epicenter of Canada. If Jason Kenney forms government, his unwavering commitment to force renewable energy to compete solely at the market level by eliminating subsidies may end up proving counterproductive. Generous subsidies are what have promoted the rapid fall in costs associated with renewable energy. It’s the significant drop in production costs that have allowed for companies to offer extremely low prices per kilowatt when bidding on long term contracts. Kenney has emphasized that cutting subsidies is another way of restoring fiscal responsibility to Alberta, however, it has the potential to cool down a market which is currently on fire.
Whether or not Jason Kenney wins the upcoming Provincial election on April 16, Alberta will have a bright future in renewable energy. The efforts of Rachel Notley’s government to stimulate green industry and diversify Alberta’s economy have undoubtably paid off. Diversification through renewable energy offers Alberta the unique opportunity of distancing itself from its boom and bust past. Kenney has the potential to slow down the renewable energy market, but as the production costs continue to fall, it’s emerging as the obvious energy choice.
The key policy to watch if Kenney is elected is whether he will respect long term renewable energy contracts. If not, his message of Alberta being “open for business” will be nothing more than a campaign slogan, adding one more parallel between himself and Doug Ford.
Analyzing Nuclear Energy
DISCLAIMER: This article was written at the direction of PV Buzz Media’s Editorial team and may not reflect the author’s personal views.
The start of the new decade has been marred by global crises, including wildfire devastation throughout Australia. The encaptivating inferno invokes a deep sense of loss and acts as a stark reminder that action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change is coming much too slowly.
The decade of the 20s is likely to bring transformational change to global energy systems. Younger generations, emboldened by ever-worsening climate news, along with Greta Thunberg’s activism, have gotten louder, more political, and more determined to see global energy systems decarbonize. The speed at which decarbonization needs to occur to avoid the worst impacts of climate change begs the question of whether or not it’s worthwhile further developing the capacity of nuclear energy.
Economics of Nuclear Energy
Determining which sources of energy are most viable for global decarbonization is highly complex and requires an analysis of economic, social, and environmental factors. Energy sources which make for poor investments will face strong political opposition and will struggle to scale their capacity due to financing difficulties. Bearing this in mind, the 2019 World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) indicated that production costs of nuclear energy are increasing over time. Per MW, nuclear energy costs anywhere between $112-$189, averaging around $150. This is roughly three times the cost of solar energy per MW, which comes in around $40/MW. The price analysis in the WNISR report is based on Levelized Costs, which calculate the total production and operational costs of an energy plant. The high price tag associated with nuclear energy is largely due to project complexity, as nuclear plants must meet strict licensing and design regulations. Nuclear technology also lacks industry-wide standardization, further decreasing economic efficiency.
The price of decommissioning and disposing of toxic waste additionally increases the lifetime costs of a nuclear power plant. A report published in 2017 by the U.S Energy Information Administration detailed that decommissioning a nuclear plant can cost as much as 1 billion dollars. This enormous price tag largely stems from decontaminating the project site of residual radioactivity, which is both time consuming and a highly specialized process.
Environmental Impacts of Nuclear Energy
Advocates of nuclear energy often tout it as a green source of fuel, as there are no operational greenhouse gases (GHGs) released during the production of energy. While accurate, the claim is not entirely forthcoming. During the development of the project site, GHGs are released during the transport of required materials, as well as the construction process itself. Procuring the necessary uranium required to generate energy is also carbon-intensive, and frequently occurs in countries with lax environmental regulations. Toxic by-products produced during nuclear fission also represent a significant challenge, as there is still no way to dispose of it safely. The current practice of burying and (attempting to) forget about the waste’s existence is irresponsible and in direct conflict with the precautionary principle, a pinnacle of environmental management.
While not as damaging to the environment as coal, oil, or natural gas, nuclear energy falls far short of achieving the insignificant environmental footprint of solar, wind or other green renewable energy sources.
Health Impacts of Nuclear Energy
Nuclear energy often faces stronger community backlash (the “not in my backyard” phenomenon) than other forms of energy, as nuclear meltdowns at Chernobyl and Fukushima have made global populations weary. There have been significant safety improvements over the last few decades, which have made nuclear energy far safer than is often perceived. However, that’s not to say there aren’t any risks associated with the technology.
Nuclear power plants consistently emit low levels of radiation. There are conflicting studies on potential repercussions; however, early trends in scientific research suggest that there is a link between long term exposure to low levels of radiation and cancer. In comparison, solar or wind energy have net positive benefits on community health. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that “widespread solar adoption would significantly reduce nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter emissions, all of which can cause health problems. NREL found that, among other health benefits, solar power results in fewer cases of chronic bronchitis, respiratory and cardiovascular problems, and lost workdays related to health issues.”
Countries that have already adopted nuclear energy are likely to maintain their usage for the time being. Looking to the future, the eventual displacement of nuclear in favour of solar and wind energy seems increasingly likely. The massive price disparity in producing nuclear and green energy alone ensures an eventual market transition. When coupling together the social and environmental impacts, it’s clear that nuclear energy is quickly becoming obsolete. Solar and wind energy, combined with other, smaller renewable sources, represent the fastest, most efficient, and most attainable chance at achieving decarbonization to curb climate change.