The most powerful renewable energy

Can we harness the extraordinary power of rivers in a way that replenishes ecosystems, rather than harming wildlife?

Large traditional dams can provide an abundance of clean energy, but they profoundly alter a region's water table and watercourse (Credit: Getty Images)

The world’s most relied-upon renewable energy source isn’t wind or sunlight, but water. Last year, the world’s hydropower capacity reached a record 1,308 gigawatts (to put this number in perspective, just one gigawatt is equivalent to the power produced by 1.3 million race horses or 2,000 speeding Corvettes). Utilities throughout the globe rely upon hydropower to generate electricity because it is cheap, easily stored and dispatched, and produced with no fuel combustion, meaning it won’t release carbon dioxide or pollutants the way power plants burning fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas do.

As with other energy sources, however, hydropower is not without an environmental cost. Beyond the profound ecosystem impact of damming and diverting huge waterways, hydropower can wreak havoc on native aquatic species and their ecosystems. The majority of watersheds around the world – some of which have operated on hydropower for more than a century – are highly degraded, with polluted waterways and outmoded technology. Traditional reservoirs are often stagnant bodies of water; because of this, they are frequently sites of harmful algal blooms, or HABs, which are toxic to people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals and birds.

As well as profoundly altering the watercourse, large hydro dams can be a death-zone for fish. As well as obstructing their migratory routes, the fast-spinning turbine blades can cut them. If they make it past the blades, sudden changes in pressure can kill the fish, as can shear forces during passage through the turbine.

Sudden pressure changes for fish travelling past a traditional dam can kill them, even if they make it past the turbine blades (Credit: Getty Images)


Sudden pressure changes for fish travelling past a traditional dam can kill them, even if they make it past the turbine blades (Credit: Getty Images)

Is it possible to make clean, renewable energy from rivers while actually restoring wildlife and the wider habitat? Engineers have been looking to change the future of hydropower through fish-safe turbines. The California-based company Natel Energy has partnered with Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ investment firm Breakthrough Energy Ventures to create a new, blunt-edged turbine that improves fish survival. As well as saving fish, Natel’s turbine aims to create climate-resilient hydropower that can withstand the vagaries of unpredictable rainfall.


“The challenge we address is how to harness the great attributes of hydropower as a renewable energy resource – its reliability and dispatchability – while reducing environmental impact and cost,” says Abe Schneider, chief technology officer of Natel and a mechanical engineer by training. “A fish-safe, compact, high-performance turbine does exactly that; when paired with better information about how much water will flow and when, the whole solution works together to create a modern hydropower system.”

Traditional hydropower plants work by harnessing the force and pressure of water flowing from a high point to a lower point through chutes in a dam. Near the bottom of the chute sits a turbine; water spins the turbine, which creates power that can be transmitted to businesses and homes. But this is also the main passage for migrating fish such as salmon or eel, which can get caught in the mechanism’s thin, sharp blades.

Natel Energy has already installed turbines intended to be friendlier to the wider ecosystem in Maine, US (Credit: Getty Images


Natel Energy has already installed turbines intended to be friendlier to the wider ecosystem in Maine, US (Credit: Getty Images

Natel’s turbine, by contrast, uses curved thick blades; because of the nature of their design, the turbine can double allowed strike speeds, allowing for relatively small and inexpensive turbine size that also offer migratory fish safe passage. A pinwheel configuration (rather than spokes issuing straight out of a turbine’s hub) means the turbine’s blades deliver a glancing blow instead of a knife-like strike. “From an engineering perspective, a thick blade creates a pressure zone that helps shed material out of its path, almost like an airbag for the fish, so the impact is minimal,” says Abe. This design also obviates the need for a “trash rack” – a fine screen traditionally used to capture debris at the entrance to the turbine, often installed to keep small fish out of the machinery.

Climate resilient

Abe co-founded Natel Energy with his sister Gia Schneider, also an engineer and the company’s chief executive; together, they recognised the conventional approach to hydropower wasn’t suited to modern conditions, because rain and weather patterns themselves are changing. As extended drought or flooding threatens regions throughout the world and climate change prompts unusual weather patterns, Natel’s reimagined form of hydropower can actually make watersheds more adaptable.

“Climate change is water change,” explains Gia. “We saw an opportunity to rethink hydropower facilities with civil and environmental engineering techniques, using fish-safe turbines, machine learning and satellite imagery.” Indeed, extreme year-on-year climate variability and unpredictable rainfall will only make innovative solutions more urgent. If done sustainably, hydropower can work as a green fuel source with a number of side benefits, including flood control, irrigation, drought mitigation and water supply.

Natel’s turbine is paired with satellite technology that allows hydropower plant operators to monitor changing watershed conditions such as the spring “green up” (that is, when snow melts and plants begin to grow) and more accurately forecasts waterflow. As conditions on the ground change, this software uses machine learning to create real-time models of the surrounding landscape, which in turn enables more accurate water forecasts.

“The… concept is quite important to the future of hydropower because it provides an environmentally sustainable alternative to more conventional hydropower systems” says Stephen Amaral, a principal fisheries biologist at Alden Research Labs in Massachusetts. Alden Labs works to solve flow-related engineering and environmental problems across industries. Last year, the company conducted a series of blade-strike tests using a specially designed apparatus that allowed them to expose anesthetised fish to different turbine blade speeds and geometries. “Our most recent tests were with Natel’s turbines,” says Amaral. “We were able to demonstrate that fish survival was improved with the [turbine].”

Beavers create dams that make rivers spill and pool, helping to rewet the wider area (Credit: Getty Images)


Beavers create dams that make rivers spill and pool, helping to rewet the wider area (Credit: Getty Images)

Natel’s vision, called Restoration Hydro, moves away from conventional large dams to a more distributed approach based on biomimicry. Before human intervention and the creation of aqueducts and canals, most North American rivers were clogged with woody debris and beaver dams. Cascades that mimic beaver structures cause water to slow down, creating small ponds and wetlands; this gives sufficient time for water to seep into the ground, which in turn raises the water table. A higher water table means more groundwater storage, which helps watersheds ride out long stretches of drought.

These linked distributed systems are specifically designed to restore river connectivity for fish and other wildlife, enhance water-supply sanitation and agricultural productivity, and support the livelihoods and socio-economic development of local communities, making Natel’s system an obvious choice for developing countries. “Our approach is a distributed one,” says Gia, “with smaller individual projects that are linked into groups operated in coordination so that we can generate hydropower without large dams.”

Because hydropower plants can generate power to the grid immediately, they provide essential back-up power during major electricity outages or disruptions (water power has in fact been in high demand during the Covid-19 crisis, as electricity generation has been little affected due to the degree of automation in modern facilities).

Though still in its early stages, Natel Energy’s turbine is already operational: the company opened their first hydropower plant in 2019 in the United States, and a second is in construction with commissioning planned for later this year. As companies throughout the world look to transition to a low or zero-carbon grid, better designed turbines can help achieve high reliability and power storage, enhancing climate resilience while keeping salmon happily swimming upstream.


Tribal lands ruling: ‘Total chaos’ for oil?

The US Supreme Court ruled yesterday that millions of acres in eastern Oklahoma are part of a Native American reservation when it comes to applying criminal law. An oil pump jack in the Sooner State is pictured. Sarah Nichols/Flickr

A Supreme Court ruling yesterday [July 9]declaring that nearly half of Oklahoma remains Native American reservation land is causing a stir among some oil executives who are wary of increased federal regulations.In a 5-4 decision led by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the high court found that 19 million acres of land in the eastern half of the Sooner State was part of the Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole Nations’ reservations.

Yesterday’s ruling stemmed from a dispute over whether an Oklahoma court had the power to convict Jimcy McGirt, a member of the Creek Nation, on charges of sexual abuse against a child (Greenwire, July 9).

Gorsuch, joined by the Supreme Court’s liberal wing, maintained in McGirt v. Oklahoma that Congress never took the step to disestablish the reservation land, and the acreage therefore belongs to the tribes until Congress takes explicit action to give the land to the state.

“The McGirt decision is a historical win for the Muscogee Creek Nation, and time will tell how it affects other Oklahoma tribes in their jurisdictional claims,” Jordan Harmon, a Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizen, advocate and attorney, said in a statement.

“Throughout the opinion Gorsuch recounts the decades of abuse and illegal activity at the hands of the state of Oklahoma encroaching into Indian Territory.”

The decision, which had important implications for criminal prosecutions, could also mean that oil and gas operations in the eastern half of Oklahoma will now be out of the hands of state regulators and subject to tougher federal rules.

“The status of land is a really big point in determining who has regulatory authority, and that’s why it has broad implications,” said Elizabeth Kronk Warner, dean of the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.

The Supreme Court’s recognition of the reservations doesn’t mean the lands are owned by the tribes but means that they are instead part of federally owned acreage, with tribes serving as beneficiaries, she said.

“Anytime there is oil and gas development on federal land, you have to go through the federal government to get your permitting and everything, and that’s true for development in Indian Country,” Warner said.

In response to yesterday’s ruling, Congress could decide to disestablish the reservations.

“Assuming Congress doesn’t take action and the decision stands, then oil and gas companies that currently have lease agreements within the affected territory would start to have to go through the process that you normally would for oil and gas leases in Indian Country,” Warner said.

The prospect of Congress taking action offered little comfort to prominent oil executive Dewey Bartlett, a former Tulsa mayor who runs Keener Oil & Gas Co.

“It’s going to be total chaos,” he said.

Bartlett said Congress should fix what he sees as a major problem, but he questioned whether lawmakers from the rest of the country would be willing to take action.

“It’s very unique to Oklahoma. With a lack of real political power, it’s going to be difficult,” he said. “The rest of the states could give a damn.”

The oil industry, Bartlett said, will be concerned about the validity of its leases. He said he is also worried that tribes could impose new taxes or environmental restrictions on developers.

In a similar case heard during the Supreme Court’s prior term, the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma raised questions about how the recognition of the reservations might affect oil and gas development. In an amicus brief filed in Sharp v. Murphy, which the justices also resolved yesterday, the group said that an outcome in favor of the tribes could significantly change the regulation of oil and gas wells, among other concerns.

“The Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma is disappointed in today’s majority opinion in McGirt v. Oklahoma, but we are moving forward to work with the state of Oklahoma, the tribes and Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation to ensure that our members continue to have a stable, predictable regulatory and tax environment consistent with their interests,” alliance President Brook Simmons said in a statement.

“It is critical for continued investment in Oklahoma that the state maintain primacy with regard to the regulation of oil and gas operations, and that issues of title with regard to real property remain unaffected.”

‘Overblown’ woes

The oil and gas industry could face other issues indirectly stemming from the Supreme Court ruling.

Those could include taxation or the application of federal environmental laws if those laws allow tribes to be treated as a state, said Hilary Tompkins, a partner at the law firm Hogan Lovells. Operators could also face tribal regulations, she added.

The Clean Water Act, for example, includes a provision that allows the treatment of tribes as states for regulatory purposes, said Joel West Williams, a senior staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund.

However, even if tribes could expand their ability to act, the Supreme Court has narrowed the authority of tribes to regulate non-Indians on non-Indian land in a reservation “quite a bit,” said Williams.

“I don’t think we are going to see immediate drastic impacts in that way,” he added.

Some issues could be negotiated between the state and tribes, as has been done for years across the country on other reservations, said Tompkins, a former Interior Department solicitor.

Such efforts are already underway between Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter (R) and the tribes. In a joint statement yesterday, they said they were working on implementing a framework of shared jurisdiction that balanced sovereign interests and self-government.

“I think saying there will be chaos and confusion and lack of clarity in the government in the region is overblown,” Tompkins said.


By Niina H. Farah, E&E News reporter. Reporters Mike Soraghan and Carlos Anchondo contributed. Email:

Indigenous police behave differently than urban counterparts, lawyer says

Canada’s largest Indigenous police force has never killed anyone

TORONTO — In its 26 years of existence, officers with Canada’s largest Indigenous police force have never shot and killed anyone and no officer has died in the line of duty, despite a grinding lack of resources and an absence of normal accountability mechanisms.

It’s a record of which the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service is proud, especially in light of the recent uproar in North America over police killings and brutality involving Indigenous, Black, and mentally distressed people. It’s a record achieved in communities frequently in social distress, places where hunting rifles and shotguns are ubiquitous.

The key difference from urban, non-Indigenous policing, insiders and observers say, is the relationship building between officers and the people they serve.

“In the past, you might have been the only officer in there,” Roland Morrison, chief of NAPS says from Thunder Bay, Ont. “You would have no radio, you’ve got no backup, so you really effectively have to use your communication and talk to people. You have to develop relationships with the communities in order to have positive policing.”

Inaugurated in 1994, NAPS is responsible for policing more than 38,000 people in 34 communities, many beyond remote, across a vast, largely untamed swath of northern Ontario. Currently the service has 203 officers, about 60 per cent of them Indigenous, Morrison says. Its mandate is culturally responsive policing.

Erick Laming, a criminology PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, says people from First Nation communities — many with an ingrained suspicion of police given the brutal realities of generations of enforced residential school attendance — have a higher level of trust when officers are Indigenous.

In contrast, he said, new RCMP recruits with no such background might find themselves in Nunavut or Yukon confronted with significant language and cultural barriers.

“If you’re from the community, you have those lived experiences. You can relate to people. You just know how to deal with the issues,” says Laming, who is from the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation north of Kingston, Ont.

“If you don’t have that history, you can have all the cultural-sensitivity training in the world, you’ll never fully be able to fully integrate into that situation.”

Another example, he said, is the service in Kahnawake, Que., which calls itself the Kahnawake Peacekeepers rather than a police force.

While all officers in Ontario undergo the same basic training, the province’s nine Indigenous police services are fundamentally different from their non-Indigenous counterparts.

For one thing, they are not deemed an essential service, although federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said last month that policing First Nations communities should be. Nor are those in Ontario subject to the provincial Police Services Act, which mandates standards, including for an extensive oversight framework.

Now, the process for filing complaints against members of an Indigenous police force is ad hoc, although NAPS does have a professional standards branch and will on occasion call in Ontario Provincial Police. Officers have been disciplined, charged or even fired for excessive use of force.

Another difference is that Indigenous forces are completely reliant on the vagaries of government program funding — with Ottawa footing 52 per cent of the bill and provinces 48 per cent. The current operations budget for NAPS, for example, is around $37.7 million — more than its peers — with expenses approaching $40 million.

The upshot, particularly in years gone by, has been a dire shortage of officers and even of basic facilities and equipment that urbanites can scarcely imagine. In more than a dozen cases, Indigenous self-administered police services in Canada have simply folded.

Now retired, Terry Armstrong, who spent 22 years with Ontario Provincial Police as well as five years as chief of NAPS, says people would be shocked to find out just how poorly funded First Nations policing has been.

Armstrong recounts how a few years ago, in the Hudson Bay community of Fort Severn, Ont., a NAPS officer found himself dealing with a homicide. Besides having to secure three crime scenes and the body, the lone officer had to arrest the suspect and deal with a separate gun call. Bad weather prevented any forensic or other help flying in until the following day.

One thing he always stressed to newcomers as chief, Armstrong says, is the importance of treating people respectfully.

“Some day, they’re going to be your backup. When stuff goes south, you’re going to need people to support you,” he says. “If you’re going to be a dick … when you need help, they aren’t going to be there for you.”

One frigid afternoon in February 2013, the only on-duty NAPS officer in Kasabonika Lake First Nation in Ontario’s far north detained Lena Anderson, an intoxicated young mother upset over the apprehension of her daughter. The new detachment portable was unheated. The old holding cell was unusable because prisoners could escape through holes in the floor.

The arresting officer left Anderson, 23, in the caged back seat of his Ford 150 police truck for warmth while he went to get help from his off-duty colleague. Alone for 16 minutes, Anderson strangled herself.

The tragedy, combined with a threatened strike over working conditions by NAPS officers, caused an uproar. The situation, says Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, prompted his Nishnawbe Aski Nation to take a stand. Governments, he said, had to do better or face the far more daunting prospect of doing the policing themselves.

As a result, Fiddler says, a new funding agreement was reached in 2018 that allowed the hiring of 79 new officers over five years and critical infrastructure upgrades to detachments and poor or non-existent communication systems. Most importantly, he said, the deal set in motion pending Ontario legislation that would finally allow First Nations police services to opt in to the Police Services Act, putting in place solid standards and accountability mechanisms.

“That’s something our communities and citizens deserve.” Fiddler says. “If they have an issue with NAPS, there should be a forum for them to pursue their grievance.”

However, giving investigative authority to the province’s Special Investigations Unit or Office of the Independent Police Review Director must come with cultural safety built in, he says.

Stephen Leach, current review director, says his office is not yet involved in the opt-in process.


Systemic racism more than ‘a few bad apples’


Police watchdog SIU clears 95 per cent of cops investigated in 2019

Of the 363 cases “closed” by the Special Investigations Unit last year, only 13 ended in criminal charges against police officers

The the Special Investigations Unit, the province’s police watchdog, has released its annual report for 2019.

“The purpose giving rise to the SIU, is clear – police accountability and public confidence,” writes SIU director Joseph Martino is his “Director’s Message” to open the report.

Martino continues: “By ensuring that police conduct is subject to rigorous and independent investigation, and that charges are laid where appropriate, the SIU ties the concern for police accountability with the need for public confidence in policing. Ontarians may justly be proud of their SIU.”

But while acknowledging that the SIU “must do more to engage diverse communities” – the unit’s outreach coordinator position was vacant most of 2019 – the document is also a reminder that 30 years after the SIU’s creation, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to civilian oversight of police.


Some 314 cases were handled by the SIU in 2019. Among them were eight firearms deaths, 19 police custody deaths and 55 cases alleging sexual assault. The majority of cases (174) involved individuals who were injured in police custody.

The SIU “closed” a total of 363 cases in 2019, some of those were leftover from the previous year. (The SIU has a backlog of 151 cases on its books.) But only 13 investigations ended in charges against police.

One-third of the total number of cases closed by the SIU (117) were “terminated by memo,” which means that it was determined at an early stage in the investigation that those cases did not fall under the SIU’s mandate, which is to probe incidents of serious injury or death and cases of sexual assault involving police.

But even if you exclude the number “terminated by memo” from the total, it still means that 95 per cent of cases investigated by the SIU ended in no charges against police.

And while the number of charges laid by the SIU cannot be the lone measure of police accountability, it’s not an aberration. The percentage of cases investigated by the unit that do not end in charges has historically been around 95 per cent.

There are many reasons for that.

There is little the SIU can do under current protocols to compel officers who are the subject of investigations to submit to an interview or turn over their notes of an incident.

At the same time, as the unit is held up as a model for police oversight elsewhere around the world, questions persist about the SIU’s independence, not to mention the police culture and lack of diversity within its ranks.

The SIU employs 51 investigators. Most of those have police ties. Nine are people of colour, including three Black and two Indigenous investigators.

Of the unit’s 13 lead investigators, the SIU reports that 10 have no past policing experience. But of the unit’s 28 “as-required” investigators, 23 come from law enforcement. Also, all 10 of the unit’s forensic investigators have a background in policing.

The questions of culture at the SIU go right to the top.

Martino has been with the unit since 1999, serving as chief counsel for the SIU (and acting director during leadership gaps) before taking on the role of deputy director under his predecessor Tony Loparco in 2018. Martino has recently signed a two-year contract. His appointment comes at a volatile time for the SIU as it faces increased scrutiny over the recent police-custody death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet.


The SIU’s annual report includes an overview of cases handled by the unit and reasons for the director’s decisions, which the report describes as “rarely easy.”

The report stipulates that “The director’s job is not to decide whether the police officer, who is the subject of an investigation, is innocent or guilty, but rather whether the evidence satisfies the director that there are reasonable grounds to pursue criminal charges.”

In that regard, the SIU has set a high bar on what constitutes reasonable grounds to lay a charge.

Take for instance the circumstances of a case not mentioned in its annual report. It involves Toronto police and the execution of a search warrant in the early morning hours at a condominium at 235 Sherway Gardens in Etobicoke in April 2019.

The Emergency Task Force (ETF) was called to coordinate a “dynamic entry” into the residence, where an 18-year-old believed to have been involved in a shooting outside a middle school some days earlier was allegedly located and armed.

Police used a ram to force open the door of the residence. A “distraction device” was also used. According to the SIU’s account, two officers, one of them armed with an MP5 rifle, made their way to a bedroom in the unit where the suspect had been sleeping and “engaged physically” with him when the rifle went off.

The SIU report says that “the immediate circumstances surrounding the firearm discharge are less than clear.” But that there is some evidence that “upon hearing the distraction device” the suspect “rolled out of bed and knelt on the floor with his hands up.”

The SIU report says that one of the officers “kneed him in the back causing him to fall forward.” And that the suspect “was handcuffed and prone on the floor when a second officer shot him as he was searching a nearby closet.” There was no gun found in the bedroom of the suspect.

The officer who injured the suspect declined to answer questions about the incident or provide his notes to the SIU. Police are required under the Police Services Act to “cooperate fully” with the SIU, but there’s nothing in law to compel subject officers to submit to an interview or turnover their notes.

The SIU interviewed nine of the 22 officers who were present at the scene. Some accounts contradict the narrative the SIU had settled upon.

The Firearm Discharge Report completed by the ETF’s officer in charge, for example, indicated that the officer’s MP5 was unintentionally discharged during a “physical confrontation with subject.”

The Use of Force Report, which was completed by multiple ETF officers “as a team”, included under the “Reason for Use of Force”, “protect self”, “protect public”, “effect arrest”, “prevent commission of offence”, and “prevent escape.” Other options, notably, “accidental” and “other”, were not selected.

The SIU director’s report declared it a significant unknown whether the officer had his finger on the trigger at the time of the incident.

The report notes that police officers’ conduct could be caught under the Criminal Code’s section 86 (1), which applies to the careless use, carrying or handling of a firearm. But in this case, even carelessness could not be reasonably determined.

The SIU report references R v Gosset, a Supreme Court of Canada case involving a manslaughter charge against a police officer, in declaring that what is required for a charge “is conduct that amounts to something more than a simple departure from the level of care that a reasonably prudent person would have observed in the circumstances.”

The report neglects to mention, however, that Gosset also held that those who hold special knowledge and experience are to be held to a higher standard of care than non-police officers. “Training and experience as a police officer most certainly will be relevant to the standard of care.”

The SIU report also noted that the officer was duty bound to handle his firearm safely and arguably fell short of that duty. But it found that there was not sufficient “evidence to reasonably establish a sufficient want of care” to warrant criminal charges against the officer.

The case was one of 46 referred to the SIU by Toronto police in 2019. Of those, five involved firearms-related injuries or deaths, two were custody deaths and nine involved sexual assault allegations. The remaining cases involve police custody and vehicle-related injuries. Charges were laid in two cases (a sexual assault and custody injury). Two other investigations are still ongoing.


Offshore wind energy investment quadruples despite Covid-19 slump

Investors give greenlight to $35bn worth of projects worldwide in first half of 2020

The new windfarms include a $3.9bn array off the Netherlands and a $3.8bn project in the Firth of Forth, Scotland. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Global offshore wind investment more than quadrupled in the first half of the year even as the coronavirus pandemic triggered an unprecedented economic shock.

A report has found that investors gave the greenlight to 28 new offshore windfarms worth a total of $35bn (£28bn) this year, four times more than in the first half of 2019 and well above the total for last year as a whole.

The biggest half-year tally for offshore wind investment more than made up for a slowdown in investment for onshore wind and solar farm projects after the outbreak of Covid-19, according to the report by Bloomberg NEF (BNEF).

Albert Cheung, BNEF’s head of analysis, said: “We expected to see Covid-19 affecting renewable energy investment in the first half, via delays in the financing process and to some auction programmes. There are signs of that in both solar and onshore wind, but the overall global figure has proved amazingly resilient – thanks to offshore wind.”

The sea-based windfarms include some of the biggest investments in offshore wind ever made. The Hollandse Kust Zuid array off the coast of the Netherlands will cost the Swedish energy giant Vattenfall $3.9bn, and SSE’s Seagreen project in Scotland’s Firth of Forth is valued at $3.8bn.

BNEF believes offshore wind projects are taking off despite the global economic gloom in part due to a two-thirds fall in cost since 2012 and a rush in China to finance and build offshore wind projects before the government’s subsidy regime expires at the end of 2021.

The growth in offshore wind powered a 5% jump in total renewable energy investment to $132.4bn despite a slump for onshore wind and solar power projects. Onshore wind investment for the first half of the year fell by a fifth to $37.5bn, while solar investment slipped 12% to $54.7bn.

China remained the world’s biggest market for renewable energy, with total investment of $41.6bn in the first half of the year, up more than 40% from the same period last year thanks to its offshore wind boom.

In Europe, renewable energy investment reached $36.5bn, up by 50%, while the UK’s renewable energy investment climbed to $5.7bn, more than three and half times greater than the total investment in early 2019.

Renewable energy investment slipped by 30% in the US to $17.8bn while India and Brazil recorded investments which were about 50% and 25% lower respectively at $2.7bn and $2.5bn.

Renewable energy is expected to be the most resilient area of the energy industry this year after the International Energy Agency warned that investment in global energy would fall by $400bn, the biggest slump in the industry’s history.

Angus McCrone, the chief editor of BNEF, said that a clearer picture of the impact of Covid-19 on green energy investment will come with the full-year 2020 figures.

“Renewables have been helped by vastly improved competitiveness and by investor appetite for assets offering secure cash flows. However, project developers face the challenge that key people, whether at the permitting, financing or construction stages, can’t meet face-to-face. And buyers of small-scale solar systems are sensitive to changes in consumer confidence.”


Jillian Ambrose is the Guardian’s energy correspondent

Women’s group angered by ‘intoxication’ ruling but concern called overblown

Superior Court of Justice shown in this file photo in Windsor, Ont., Nov. 19, 2013. (Melanie Borrelli / CTV Windsor)

TORONTO – A court ruling allowing people accused of sexual assault or other violent crimes to argue they were so intoxicated they didn’t know what they were doing has angered women’s-rights activists but civil libertarians call the criticism unwarranted.

A decades-old law had banned such a defence but Ontario’s top court this week declared it unconstitutional for trampling on key rights of the accused.

The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, which intervened in the case, called the decision a setback for victims, particularly of sexual assault.

“We are dismayed that women’s rights to equality and dignity are not given more adequate treatment,” the organization said on Thursday. “It also risks sending a dangerous message that men can avoid accountability for their acts of violence against women and children through intoxication.”

Cara Zwibel, a director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the decision clarified the legal situation around use of the intoxication defence. While she sympathized with concerns the ruling would undermine protections for sexual assault victims, she said they were overblown.

“I don’t see it as seriously undermining the rights of victims,” Zwibel said. “This is a rarely used provision; it’s not this widespread, systemic concern.”

At issue was a law the federal government enacted in 1995 amid a backlash over a court ruling that recognized drunkenness could be raised to defend against a sexual assault charge.

The Appeal Court decision setting aside the law came in a pair of separate cases in which two men, both high on drugs, either killed or injured close relatives. Their defence, however, ran afoul of the ban on arguing extreme intoxication.

In overturning their convictions on Wednesday, Justices David Paciocco, David Watt and Peter Lauwers said a person must act voluntarily to commit a crime. While lawmakers might have sought to help victims attain justice, they said the law violated an accused’s rights by holding them accountable for violence they really had no control over.

“It enables the conviction of individuals for acts they do not will,” the court said. “To convict an attacker of offences for which they do not bear the moral fault required by the charter to avoid this outcome is to replace one injustice for another and at an intolerable cost to the core principles that animate criminal liability.”

Megan Stephens, the legal fund’s executive director and co-counsel on the intervention, said the ruling could further discourage women from reporting sexual assault.

“I recognize the importance of protecting the constitutional rights of all,” Stephens said. “It is discouraging, however, that the security interests and equality rights of women and children receive only brief reference by the court given that they are disproportionately victimized by intoxicated offenders.”

Jill Presser, a lawyer who argued the case for the civil liberties association, called the criticism unfounded. The justices, she said, were grappling with a highly complex legal flashpoint in which preventing wrongful convictions bumps up against the right of vulnerable Canadians to be free from violence.

“That’s a really difficult meeting point in the law,” Presser said. “While the bulk of the judgment doesn’t focus on the victim, that animates the entire decision.”

The decision still leaves the onus on an accused to come up with expert and other evidence to prove they were in a state of automatism to raise the intoxication defence successfully, Zwibel said. Simply claiming to have been drunk wouldn’t cut it.

Provincial New Democrat politician Jill Andrew called on the Ministry of the Attorney General to try to fight the ruling. The Supreme Court of Canada, she said, should weigh the impact “on the lives of women, trans women and sex workers, their bodies, and the justice they deserve after surviving sexual assault or violence.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 4, 2020.


By Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

The Defence of Extreme Intoxication, Simplified. The Case of Sullivan

Crown wants to fight controversial ‘extreme intoxication’ defence ruling


The Ontario Court of Appeal recently struck down a law that prohibited an extreme self-intoxication defence for certain criminal offences.

The decision appears to be terribly misunderstood by the public and even the media.  It is something of a complex topic, but much less so if one reads beyond the headlines and attempts to understand the substance of the judgment and the reasoning behind it.

What was the decision?

  • People who are so intoxicated that they do not know what they are doing are not guilty because they do not know they are doing anything wrong.
  • There was an exception:
    • people who got themselves intoxicated and then committed violent crimes could be found guilty even if they didn’t know what they were doing when they did it.
  • Now, the Courts say: no.
  • Those exceptions are not constitutional … nobody can be guilty if they don’t know what they’re doing.

So, is intoxication a defence for sexual assault now?

  • It never was.  It never will be.
  • The level of intoxication you need to be for this defence to apply is so, so, so extremely rare. It is not about being drunk or “blacking out”: it is more like being a zombie. You would need a scientist to come to court to convince the judge you were at this state of mind.
  • Most likely the government will have a different scientist saying “no, he wasn’t!”.
  • There’s evidence that alcohol alone can’t even physically possibly get you to that level of intoxication where you could commit a crime and not know it.
  • In other words, it is likely that this defence will – in practice – never apply to alcohol cases.
  • It would be so extremely rare for somebody being able to commission a sexual assault while in a state that far-gone.
  • Rare, like: it may not happen a single time in Canada in your lifetime.

consent intoxication defence sexual assault sullivan chan

Why did the Court strike down the law?

Very, very basically …

  1. Because if you did not consciously do anything wrong, it would be unconstitutional to put you in jail for it.
  2. We obviously want to protect victims of crime from violence …. But the law didn’t actually protect anybody!
  3. The crimes are committed unknowingly and unintentionally!   he law can’t “discourage” people from doing things they don’t have the capacity to realize they’re doing.
  4. If the law could actually prevent the crimes, that would be one thing.  But it doesn’t.  It serves no purpose.

Those are the bare-bones basics.

Now, let’s look a little more closely at what the decision actually was …


This article will attempt to explain the recent decision in R. v. Sullivan, 2020 ONCA 333 in the plainest language possible.

It does not capture the nuance of the decision.  It does not engage with every issue or every argument.  It oversimplifies in some parts.   The quotations used are meant to illuminate, not directly quote the decision or the arguments.

For a more fulsome summary, please see this corollary article:

Or better yet, read the actual decision.  It is excellently written and is much more accessible than you may think.  It can be found here.

Sullivan extreme intoxication defence sexual assault

Some basics

The Ontario Court of Appeal recently struck down a law that was unconstitutional.

Parliament makes the laws.  Those laws remain in effect unless they violate the highest law: the Constitution.  Which includes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.   Courts decide whether a law in constitutional or not.  It is what protects us from the government of the day doing whatever they want.

To be guilty of a criminal offence in Canada, two things need to be proven:

(1) you did the act, and

(2) you had the mental element necessary for the act to be blameworthy.

For #2, the “mental element”, it is different for different offences.  But some level of moral fault is required: we do not punish people who do not even realize they are doing the bad thing.  (Not that they need to know the thing is bad … but that they are doing the thing at all)

Remember these two elements of a crime: “the act” and “the mental element”.

Intoxication as a Defence

It is not and has never been a defence to say “I was drunk when I committed an assault or sexual assault”.  To commit those crimes, you basically only have to know that you are touching the person without their consent (or maybe even just be negligent about whether your actions will lead to them being touched).

Being drunk to the point that your judgment was impaired, or your inhibitions lost is not ever a defence.  Not before this latest change, and not now.

However, it can be a different story if you are so intoxicated that you don’t even know what you are doing, or your physical actions are involuntary.  This is called being an “automaton”.  Think about it like sleepwalking, or have an extreme psychotic episode. The person does not know what they are doing.

It is extremely rare to be in that sort of state.  This is not a common defence.  This is not merely saying “I was too drunk to remember committing the crime”.  This is something much more rare.  It has to do with not understanding what was happening in reality at the time.

And that is what is important to understand.  Because if at the time you are not acting voluntarily, we would not say you are committing the act.  If at the time you do not have the mental capacity to understand what you are doing, we would not say “you should have acted lawfully” and hold you morally blameworthy.

That was the law as it stood in 1994.  The Supreme Court of Canada decided that if you are that divorced from reality, we cannot say you are legally guilty and should go to jail for the thing you did.  Which makes sense: you did not realize what you were doing.

Section 33.1 of the Criminal Code

That law essentially never changed.  The Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not allow the government to find people guilty and put them in jail unless they committed a crime with those two elements: “the act” and “the mental element”.

Therefore, you are not guilty if the crime was committed while you were an automaton.  

EXCEPT in 1995 Parliament passed a law that created a discreet exception to that principle.  Section 33.1 of the Criminal Code.  The exception is: even automatons are guilty of their crimes if:

(i)         They were intoxicated at the time of the offence

      • The intoxication was self-induced.
      • The crime committed was violent (interfered with somebody’s bodily integrity or threatened to do so.)

So, the critical question is: what makes those exceptions so special?  Anything?  It was already decided in 1994 that the Charter does not allow us to put people in jail for things they did while automatons.  Is there something different about the automatons listed in s. 33.1 that makes putting them in jail constitutional?

The answer this week from the Ontario Court of Appeal is … no.

Those sorts of automatons are not so different that we can find them guilty but not other automatons.  There is no good reason for s. 33.1 to single out those specific automatons.

The Examples of Mr. Chan and Mr. Sullivan

Two events provide good examples of the sorts of cases that s. 33.1 unfairly targets.

They are the examples that brought the question “is s. 33.1 actually constitutional?” to the Court of Appeal this year.

Both examples are tragic.

Mr. Chan:

Mr. Chan took magic mushrooms recreationally.  Unfortunately (maybe because of an underlying head injury), he went into a state of psychosis.  He thought he was god.  He thought people around him were the devil.  In that state of absolute non-reality, he stabbed a person he thought was a “devil”, who happened to be somebody he loved: his own father.  The father died.

Mr. Sullivan:

Mr. Sullivan was not even trying to get high at all.  He was trying to overdose on prescription medication to take his own life.  The suicide attempt failed, but the overdose caused him to go into a state of psychosis.  He thought he captured an alien in his home and in that state of psychosis, stabbed his own mother who was in the home.

Now without s. 33.1, both men could try to prove they were automatons.  They could try to convince a judge or jury that they were acting involuntarily and without the guilty “mental element”.

They might have succeeded, they might have failed.   It is very difficult to prove you were an automaton.  You can’t just say so.  You have to call a legal expert.  You have to prove it.  You have to convince a judge.

But they weren’t even allowed to try.  Why?  Because of Section 33.1.  Because their psychosis happened to be caused by self-intoxication.

The Ontario Court of Appeal decided that is not constitutional.  If there is no voluntary “act” and no requisite “mental element”, the government cannot punish you for the commission of a criminal offence.  At least not under Section 33.1 as it is written.

Why s. 33.1 Breaches the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Let’s discuss why it breaches the Charter.  Briefly.

As we discussed, automatons, generally, cannot constitutionally be found guilty because:

#1: their actions are not voluntary (remember: like sleepwalking), so they did not “commit” the act.

#2: they don’t realize what they are doing, so don’t have the mental element that makes them blameworthy.

So to put them in jail would be unconstitutional. 

But what about Self-Intoxicated people?  Some may say “but it is different for people who got themselves to that state by drinking or taking drugs … that is why s. 33.1 is fair”.

The government tried to argue that.  The court disagreed.

The government tried to say (and these are not actual “quotes”):

“Fine, maybe Mr. Chan and Mr. Sullivan did not voluntarily or knowingly stab their parents … but they did voluntary and knowingly ingest drugs.  And that is where you get the voluntary act and mental element that the Charter requires.”

The court said, no:

“#1:     You can’t turn ‘guilty of drinking (or taking drugs)’ into ‘guilty of stabbing’”

“#2:     The voluntary act must be the act that is illegal.  You can’t say voluntarily drinking is the same as voluntarily stabbing”.

“#3:     The mental element must also attach to the crime.  Okay, fine, sometimes you don’t have to intend the harm you create to be guilty … sometimes we say ‘you should have foreseen was going to happen’ based on your dumb voluntary decision.  But no reasonable person would foresee that taking mushrooms or drinking would lead to becoming an automaton and then stabbing a loved one.  Because it basically never does.”

The Charter protects the rights to liberty (s. 7) and the presumption of innocence (s. 11(d)).  Section 33.1 offends both.

Essentially, for all the reasons automatons generally cannot be put in jail for things they did, neither can these “special automatons” that 33.1 tries to single out.  The Charter prohibits it.

OK, so s. 33.1 breaches the Charter.  That was the easy part.

Believe it or not, basically everybody agreed since 1995 that s. 33.1 violated the Charter.  The question was:  is it a justifiable law even though it violates the Charter?

Isn’t Protecting Victims and Holding People Accountable Important?

Section 1 of the Charter allows the government to pass laws that breach our Rights and Freedoms… if they can justify it.

Think of it as “The Section 1 Override”.

Lower courts could not agree whether s. 33.1 – breaching our Charter rights as it does – is nonetheless justifiable.  Some said yes, some said no.

Now the Court of Appeal has settled it:  Section 33.1 cannot be justified.  There is no good reason to breach our Rights and Freedoms, so Section 33.1 cannot stand.

The test for the “Section 1 Override” basically asks this:

      • What is the purpose of the law Parliament passed?
      • Is that purpose important?
      • Does the law they chose to pass fix the problem in our society?
      • And if it does, is it proportionate to the harm the law causes to our rights?

Section 33.1 has two purposes:

#1:  To protect victims from violent acts committed by self-intoxicated automatons.

#2:  To hold self-intoxicated automatons accountable for the violence that they cause

Neither purpose justifies the law.  Let’s look at each in turn.

#1:       “Protection”

The Court of Appeal agrees that this is a laudable goal.  It is an important goal.

The problem, though, is that the law (s. 33.1) does nothing to achieve its goal.

Theoretically, the idea is that victims can be protected if we can pass a law that prevents the crime from being committed in the first place.

Most criminal laws achieve this to some degree:  if you steal, we will put you in jail … do not steal.  And many people, scared of jail, won’t steal.   If you assault or sexually assault somebody, we will put you in jail.  And many people scared of jail won’t assault or sexually assault anyone.

But that doesn’t work here.  What effect is s. 33.1 to stop people from being hurt?  None, because the act of violence cannot be deterred: it is involuntary and unintended.

And realistically, section 33.1 was not stopping anybody in the world from drinking or taking drugs.

Don’t forget, s. 33.1 does not only prohibit the defence for people who purposely got extremely intoxicated.  It captured people like Mr. Sullivan who did not want to get intoxicated at all.

Self-intoxicated automatism is so rare.  As it is, 99.9% of violence caused by intoxication carries with it no legal protection.  That does not stop people from becoming intoxicated.  The prospect that the s. 33.1 prohibition on the automatism defence was stopping anybody from using drugs or alcohol is so remote … it certainly does not justify an unconstitutional law.

For anybody who disagrees and feels that s. 33.1 imposed a significant deterrent that is now missing:  I presume you have not been drinking or taking any recreational drugs since 1995, for fear that your ensuing automatism and crime spree would have no viable legal defence.  And that now the lid is off, you are free to imbibe without concern for your legal prospects.

#2:        “Accountability”

The Court of Appeal dismisses this one pretty easily.  Parliament’s stated purpose of “accountability” is essentially to undermine the Charter right itself.  That is not a legitimate purpose.

To explain:  Section 1 balances two things: The Charter breach vs. Parliament’s competing interest.

What is s. 33.1’s Charter breach? 

That it holds Canadians criminally accountable even when they did not voluntarily commit the act or have the mental state.  That violates the Charter.

            What is Parliament’s Competing Interest?

That it really wants to hold those people accountable regardless.  Come, on please can it hold those people accountable?

The purpose, that is, is to hold accountable people that the Charter specifically maintains are not accountable.

The Court of Appeal properly points out … this is not a competing interest.  It is a desire to do something that directly contradicts the Charter.  The Charter is the highest law in the land and it takes precedence.


The practical effects of this Court of Appeal decision on the lives of Canadians is extremely small.  The defence it once again allows is very difficult to prove and almost never applies.

Nobody is going to use the existence of this defence to commit crimes.  It is hard to imagine a person being able to purposely get themselves to that level of intoxication even if they tried.  And if they did get to that level, they are not capable of then carrying out intentional actions.  That is the point.

It is tempting to want to take action when something tragic happens like that which happened with Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Chan and their families.  But every law must serve a useful purpose.  No useful purpose is served by imprisoning a person who did not do anything that is morally blameworthy.   It may somehow on some level make us feel safer without actually making us safer.

Let us close with the words of Justice Paciocco of the Court of Appeal himself:

“Put simply, the deleterious effects of s. 33.1 include the contravention of virtually all the criminal law principles that the law relies upon to protect the morally innocent, including the venerable presumption of innocenceWith very little true gain, Parliament has attempted to cast aside the bedrock of moral fault.”


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Ontario Appeals Court says acute intoxication by alleged assailants is a legitimate defence

No, Intoxication Is Not A Legitimate Defence For Sexual Assault In Ontario

That’s not what the Court of Appeal said, and reporting otherwise is both misleading and harmful

Emissions slashed today won’t slow warming until mid-century

Mitigation policies remain essential, but governments need to be wary of public perceptions

But greenhouse-gas emissions do not cause an instantaneous rise in global temperatures, and neither does cutting them result in instantaneous cooling. Instead, it will take decades for today’s policy efforts to result in measurable impacts on global temperature—as illustrated in a study published this week in Nature Communications.

Using climate models, Bjorn Samset and his colleagues at Norway’s Centre for International Climate Research probed hypothetical futures in which emissions of nine different industrial pollutants, including carbon dioxide and methane, were either eliminated instantly or phased out at a rate of 5% each year, starting in 2020. In order to isolate their respective effects, each chemical was knocked out individually while the rest were allowed to keep evolving as they would broadly if governments stuck to current climate pledges. Thus, the experiment tested how quickly additional efforts, as required by the Paris Agreement, would be seen in the rate of global warming.

Running these simulations over and over again in order to get statistically reliable results suggests that cutting CO2 emissions could slow the rate of warming as early as 2033, but only if they are ended worldwide in 2020. In effect, that would mean eliminating 80% of the world’s energy sources, including shutting down all fossil-fuel power stations, overnight—clearly not a realistic or desirable scenario.

Reducing CO₂ by 5% per year, starting this year, would produce a statistically significant deviation from what temperatures would have otherwise been only in 2044. And yet, even that rate of COreduction is ambitious, on a par with the 4-7% drop estimated this year as a result of the covid-19 pandemic and widespread economic shutdowns. Before this, annual emissions were creeping up. Without concerted efforts from governments, they are likely to rise again as economies reopen.


One reason for the delayed effect of slashing emissions is natural variability in the climate. Whether one year is warmer or cooler than the previous is not simply down to greenhouse gases. Large-scale natural climate effects also play a role (El Niño and La Niña are perhaps the best-known examples), warming and cooling the planet in a cyclical fashion by fractions of a degree. Depending on their phase, the warming of greenhouse gases is either masked or compounded by these kinds of natural effects. As emissions begin to drop, natural variability will also mask any slowdown of global warming that results. Dr Samset’s modelling took this into account.

In addition, more than 90% of the energy trapped by the greenhouse-gas emissions produced in the past half-century has been stored in the ocean and released to the atmosphere as heat only slowly. Even if all emissions were cut tomorrow, that process would continue to warm the air above for many years to come.

The main reason for the delay, however, is that carbon dioxide emitted today will remain in the atmosphere for decades to centuries before it is reabsorbed by vegetation and the oceans. That is not true of other industrial emissions. Each molecule of methane warms the planet 84-87 times more, averaged over 20 years, than carbon dioxide, but it stays aloft for merely years instead of decades or centuries. This has resulted in calls for immediate action to slash methane emissions, for instance by plugging leaks in natural-gas infrastructure, and reducing emissions from farming. But even then, Dr Samset’s work suggests that eliminating all sources of methane pollution in 2020 would not affect warming trends before 2039.

Keep up the pressure

Tragically, the pollutant that could have the most immediate impact is one that currently keeps the world cooler. Sulphur oxides are a by-product of burning some fossil fuels, including coal and dirty bunker fuel, and are a target of policies to clean up maritime emissions and urban air pollution. In the atmosphere, they bounce a portion of solar radiation back out into space, producing a cooling effect. Because they are dragged back to Earth by rain within days of being emitted, cutting them out of industrial activities could boost warming by the end of the decade.

In spite of all this, mitigating emissions remains crucial to the stability of the global climate and the only way of meeting the Paris Agreement targets of limiting global warming to 1.5-2°C. But Dr Samset argues that temperature may not be the best yardstick to measure the effectiveness of climate mitigation, at least not until the 2040s. Instead, direct measurements of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may be better, as they will remove the confounding effect of natural variability. And without clever messaging, there could be a public backlash against seemingly ineffectual policies.

More fundamental, however, results like these underline that even as economies begin to decarbonise, governments and societies need to drastically step up efforts to adapt to the inevitable warming that lies ahead.


Canada has finally joined the Global Oceans Alliance. Now we need a Global Oceans Treaty.

Canada joins international group of 22 countries to protect oceans ...

Canada has joined the Global Ocean Alliance, an international group of nearly two dozen other countries working to protect the world’s oceans.  (The Associated Press)

Unexpected news came last Thursday that Canada has finally joined the Global Oceans Alliance, a UK initiative that is bringing together 22 countries and counting — including Germany, Chile and Senegal — to protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030!

This is a great step towards a real win for our oceans. It was made possible thanks to your support and that of the 73,000 other Canadians who signed our petition, challenged the federal government on social media, and sent emails to the ministers in charge of the file. THANK YOU!

But we need to be vigilant. The Trudeau government remains very much in favour of oil exploration in Canada’s national waters. In 2019, for example, it issued an exploration permit to a Canadian oil company, to conduct some 20 drilling operations over this decade in an area straddling a marine refuge off the coast of Newfoundland.[1]

I invite you today to challenge the government on this inconsistency: click on these two links to send a tweet to Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and/or to Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

For more than two years now, we have been campaigning with world leaders to get countries to support an ambitious Global Oceans Treaty. Plastic pollution, industrial fishing, oil and gas development, global warming — the oceans are in poor health because of human activity. 

With the help from the scientific community, we have produced a roadmap to guide United Nations member states towards achieving a minimum of 30% protected areas in international waters.[2] We also travelled the oceans for a year to document amazing ocean biodiversity that deserves protection, threats to marine life, and to provide the most comprehensive current picture of our oceans possible.

Canada’s decision to finally commit to support the goal of 30% marine protected areas by 2030 at the next round of UN negotiations is a key step in the right direction. Let’s keep up the momentum for our oceans! 

Send a tweet to Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard and/or Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

Thank you for standing with us to protect the oceans,

Sarah, Head of Oceans and Plastics Campaign, Greenpeace Canada


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