Notes on nuclear power: pt. 3
This series was originally inspired by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, which caught the attention of many political organizations. As a result, these organizations examined the nuclear practices in their own countries. Initially, the severity of the Fukushima meltdown was down played considerably, which may have stifled many organizations’ drive to take action. In time, however, Japanese authorities raised the severity rating of the Fukushima nuclear crisis to the highest level (seven) – the same ranking applied to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster – signifying a major accident with a wide breadth of consequences. This designation shows that, despite past instances like Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, the safety of nuclear energy has not improved. Many organizations and activists in Canada know this and have tried time and again to promote the use of new energy sources in our country. It is a slow progression, but current alternative energy initiatives do exist in Canada.
Energy initiatives in Canada
In Canada, the most commonly used energy sources are non-renewable and damaging to the environment, and play a huge role in increasing energy costs due to scarcity of resources. Although fossil fuels and nuclear energy provide a lot of our energy, Canada is fortunate that it possesses the natural resources necessary to overcome our current energy-use habits. We can develop energy systems that are secure, affordable, and free from harmful emissions and other environmental effects.
The David Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and the Trottier Family Foundation have united to create the Trottier Energy Futures Project. This project will include scientific reviews of energy pro-duction and distribution opportunities while taking into account economic, social, and environmental concerns. These reviews and recommendations, of course, will be provided to governing bodies. The concern exists that this may not be enough to motivate politicians to take action. On 25 September 2009, in a pro-environment statement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to end the fossil fuel tax breaks provided to oil companies. However, analysis shows $1.4 billion per year continues to be provided to these companies in federal subsidies, $840 million of which are special tax breaks going to dirty fuels such as the Alberta Tar Sands. Since Harper’s 2009 promise to end these tax breaks, nearly $2.2 billion CAD has been put towards the fossil fuel industry in subsidies and tax breaks. Ongoing issues like this need to be addressed.
Many provinces have taken notice and are breaking away from federal inaction on climate change, taking it into their own hands. This approach, however, is slow-moving. In October 2005, provincial statistics were dis-mal. Only a few policies existed that addressed climate change as an issue. For the most part, provinces and territories did not have active climate change plans at all. Then, in June 2006, Quebec released a climate change plan that tackled the transportation sector, which is responsible for producing the majority of green-house gas emissions. This policy was essentially the first of its kind. Quebec embraced regulations for vehicles and buildings, as well as a widespread carbon tax.
Prior to Quebec’s initiative, Canada had relied almost entirely on voluntary initiatives or incentive programs that were rather ineffective, as policies. Quebec set a precedent and was soon joined by British Columbia, which also implemented a carbon tax, targets for reducing pollution, standards for vehicles, energy-efficient building codes, and mandates for reducing heavy industry emissions. Manitoba followed suit and adopted British Columbia’s legislated targets. In 2007, Ontario developed a more comprehensive climate plan than its 2002 piecemeal approach to greenhouse gas emissions by introducing a cap-and-trade system for heavy industry. In 2007, Saskatchewan’s former NDP government dramatically stepped up its game and introduced a plan with an ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target. This movement towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions has influenced most Canadian provinces and territories to set targets to reduce emissions to pre-1990 levels in the next ten years.
Provincial and territorial policies are important in the face of a weak federal approach to global warming. The federal approach to make polluters pay for carbon emissions will take years to develop, and some suggest the federal government won’t even meet its weak target for 2020.
Perhaps the solution is not solely to penalize users of non-renewable energy sources. The David Suzuki Foundation suggests that provinces and territories can reduce emissions more quickly and substantially by putting money into safer, cleaner, and more cost-effective technologies – namely renewable energy – rather than funding non-renewable options or collecting money from less environmentally-friendly industries. A quick and substantial emission reduction is vitally important.
Research indicates that a target range between 25 and 40 per cent below 1990 emission levels is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change followed by a 2050 reduction to 80 per cent below 1990 levels. Both federal bills and provincial policies are being implemented to establish 2020 target numbers. Provincial goals to reach 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 fall short of advised targets, but still go beyond current federal Conservative targets.
We need to realize that the transition to using renewable energy sources to their fullest potential will not only reduce emissions, but it will also generate upwards of 77,000 new jobs for Canadians by 2020, cleaner air, and a more reliable and cost-effective electricity system. Presently, Canada is lagging far behind renewable energy leaders, like Germany.
Renewable energy in Canada
Canada has five sources of renewable energy that can be harnessed and used to generate usable electricity. Hydropower, biomass, geothermal, solar, and wind sources can all be used in conjunction with recommenda-tions to rebuild provinces’ existing power systems using renewable sources of energy and will eliminate Canada’s current reliance on expensive, unsustainable coal and nuclear power options.
Ontario can install enough wind energy-harnessing turbines to supply nine per cent of its current demand for electricity by 2012, producing $14 billion in economic benefits and close to 100,000 person-years of employ-ment. Calgary powers its public light rail system through wind power, reducing its CO2 emissions by 26,000 tonnes per year, equivalent to 7.5 million car trips annually. Biomass or plant or animal wastes can be used to generate energy. Biomass is low-cost and environmentally friendly. In Ontario, between 1,500 to 6,000 jobs could exist by 2020 in the biomass sector. A Quebec company has designed biomass technology that uses plant waste to generate heat at the same level of efficiency as traditional oil furnaces while reducing heating costs by at least 50 per cent compared to conventional fuels. These, of course, are just a few of many examples supporting the implementation of renewable energy sectors in Canada.
A shift away from consumption of non-renewable energy sources towards the use of renewable forms of power is possible. Millions of people around the world use renewable energy to generate electricity to heat and cool buildings and to produce cleaner vehicle fuels. Internationally, wind and solar energy are the fastest growing sources of energy, creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs and creating healthier and wealthier nations.
The future of renewable energy in Canada
Canada does not currently have any policies to enable the adoption of renewable energy as a means of ener-gy production on the larger scale. Countries like Germany and Spain provide strong examples of the drastic shifts that can occur once appropriate policies have been implemented. In order to initiate this necessary change, Canada needs active political commitment to renewable energy, supportive education initiatives for research, development, training, and public awareness, and finally, incentive programs need to be implemented to inspire widespread public participation.
Potential initiatives include fuel taxes based on carbon content, mandates for ethanol and biodiesel blending, renewable energy programs (e.g., solar rooftop initiatives) supported by incentives or low-interest loans. In terms of integrating renewable energy sources to the current power grids, many countries use advanced re-newable tariffs (ARTs), which are targets for renewable energy that allow grid operators to use their own means to meet legal green-power targets. ARTs help connect renewable systems to the grid and, over time, specify fixed prices to be paid for renewable energy generation determined by legislation. This approach eliminates the obstacles involved in connecting renewable energy to the grid and it provides fair prices for an extended period of time, eliminating any market uncertainty associated with the financial risk of investing in renewable energy.
Canada’s provincial, territorial, and federal governments are turning their attention towards the need for environmental policies as they relate to renewable energy sources. Although some policies and initiatives have been established, none of them are on a trajectory that will enable Canada to meet the recommended 2020 greenhouse gas emission reduction levels. In order to create quick and sustainable change, Canada should adopt policies similar to those of world leaders in renewable energy, like Spain or Germany. Canada is famous for its natural resources and this sets up the country as an ideal nation to assume the role as a leader in renewable energy production. Large-scale policies and programs need to be set up at a federal level in order for Canada to drastically reduce the environmental impacts current energy practices are causes and to reach its potential as a world energy leader.