A future based on renewables isn’t some far-off utopia. This northern Finnish community is almost there.
Leena Vuotovesi and her team at Micropolis green energy development company go ice swimming once a week. ‘This makes us feel that we can change the world — and it is so much fun.’ Photo courtesy of Leena Vuotovesi.
he Finnish community of Ii (pronounced ee) is unusual for more than its name. It stands on the Gulf of Bothnia (the northern end of the Baltic Sea) at the mouth of the Iijoki River. The population is 10,000, about that of Quesnel, British Columbia. At 65 degrees 19 minutes north, Ii’s latitude is a little north of Dawson City, Yukon (population 1,400). The nearest big city is Oulu (population 200,000), a 25-minute drive south.
Starting around 2012, Ii decided to take climate change and renewable energy seriously and began adopting measures to move away from fossil fuels.
“We do not use fossil fuels for heating our houses and premises any more in town facilities,” Ii’s Mayor Ari Alatossova told The Tyee in an email. “Instead, we heat by using ground heat pumps, solar panels and wood chips. All the technology and knowledge needed to do that already exist. And it’s profitable compared to oil. Electricity and wood chips are produced by companies located in our town. So it’s also good for the local businesses.”
By 2019, the town had its own development company, Micropolis, had won a European Innovation Politics Award “for Europe’s boldest and most creative climate policy,” and had cut its carbon emissions by 80 per cent between 2007 and 2015. Ii’s success as a green community has also drawn the attention of the BBC.
To try to get a better sense of how Ii runs, The Tyee interviewed Micropolis managing director Leena Vuotovesi by email. Here’s a condensed and edited version: MORE
From top left: FNPA member Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme, FNPA CEO Guy Lonechild and bottom FNPA staff Rebecca Agecoutay, Tanya Grondin, Elizabeth Girard: Photography courtesty FNPA- Cowessess
After hundreds of years of outside governments and industry cashing in on Indigenous lands and resources with few benefits reciprocated, one organization is setting new precedent that could transform the energy industry.
Armed with the backing of dozens of First Nation members and corporate partnerships, an initiative to create renewable energy projects led by Indigenous groups is aiming to make millions of dollars in Alberta and Saskatchewan. With the growing demand for cleaner energy and power, Indigenous groups are open for business and ready to bring it to market.
“For too long, we’ve had major corporations and entities bring First Nation and Indigenous Peoples along for the ride… that’s not what’s happening now,” First Nations Power Authority (FNPA) CEO Guy Lonechild told an audience of stakeholders at Enoch Cree Nation on Wednesday.
Playing on the sidelines is not on the agenda, he continued — this is a game changer, a win-win that reinforces treaty relationships and helps pave the way for Indigenous self-determination.
More than a handshake
First Nations Power Authority is the only North American non-profit Indigenous owned and controlled organization developing power projects. One of its main goals is advancing Indigenous equity ownership and control on renewable energy projects, from start to finish.
An FNPA forum took place at Enoch, a First Nations community near Edmonton — a place dubbed Alberta’s “oil city.” The oilsands industry that’s sustained the province’s growth and wealth creation for decades is facing uncertainty amidst an economic downturn, political barring and environmental scrutiny.
Turning to the prospects of new, greener technology, the FNPA hopes to provide alternative solutions to consumer energy needs. Lonechild says it’s time Indigenous Peoples have the opportunity to benefit through harnessing the resources of their traditional territories.
Partnering with industry and governments is key to launching forward, he said.
“Indigenous engagement (in the energy sector) has to be more than just a handshake. We want to create transformational relationships.”
And that includes owning a majority stake in energy projects, he continued, which will help First Nations get out of the cycle of poverty and take part in the mainstream economy.
Billion dollar fund aims to align Indigenous interests with gas and oil
Meanwhile, another first of its kind is unfolding in Alberta — a billion-dollar fund from the provincial government to advance Indigenous natural-resource developments. It’s an initiative that aligns assistance for Indigenous investment with the interests of the oil and gas industry.
The Alberta government plans to invest the money to support Indigenous participation in natural-resource projects and infrastructure, including pipelines, through the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation (AIOC), announced earlier this year.
The plan isn’t too promising for the FNPA, which focuses on renewables. That’s because the AIOC money isn’t green.
Nevertheless, Rick Wilson, Alberta’s minister of Indigenous relations, was on hand in Enoch to show support for the FNPA and tell attendees they have his moral support.
Wilson became emotional when speaking about the opportunities available to help Indigenous Peoples turn the tide on wealth creation.
“Who were the first people to do business in Canada?” Wilson asked. “Let’s remember the fur trade — it was Indigenous Peoples. Fairness and economic opportunity abounds here, and this comes from taking bold action.”
Even if priority is focused on natural-resource projects right now, once capacity is built to support investment into renewable projects, it will be made available, he explained.
Wilson said Premier Jason Kenney mandated him with achieving “economic reconciliation” and the AIOC fund plays a big role.
“We are trying to heal the (historical) rifts that remain,” Wilson said. “Just trickling in money to them (First Nations) is not good enough. We must move toward economic reconciliation, where Indigenous (Peoples) are not just participants, but partners in prosperity.”
Indigenous Peoples want a “hand up,” not a “handout,” and decisions of previous governments limited them from moving forward economically, he added.
“We’re all in this together”
“When First Nation communities thrive, all Alberta thrives. We’re in this together,” Wilson said.
The oppressive regulations of the federal Indian Act already make it difficult for First Nations to get ahead in business, said Indian Resource Council (IRC) CEO Steven Buffalo, who represents First Nation stakeholders in the oil and gas sector. “Our communities are impoverished with little opportunities around them,” Buffalo said. “So the importance of having equity ownership is profound.”
But the transition from oil and gas to renewables isn’t going to be easy on the Prairies, he continued. Although the IRC agrees that transition is the way of the future, they need to keep working with fossil-fuel industries to help ease the process. Even with the help of established partners and outside investors, switching to green is a monumental task.
Going green is hard everywhere, but especially for First Nations, because, he stressed, Indigenous communities lack the resources to completely transition to greener sources of energy. Most First Nation communities struggle with extensive social and economic woes, he said, and building up capacity to transition takes plenty of extra resources that just aren’t there.
The good and the bad industry brings
Buffalo knows the good and bad that industrial development can bring, through lived experience.
The boom of natural-resource development came with a short-lived monetary blessing of royalties given to band members in Buffalo’s home community of Samson Cree Nation, located in the heart of central Alberta, part of the Four Nations of Maskwacis. Now the oil wells are running dry.
In the 1950s, Samson struck oil. It was one of the largest oil reserves discovered in that part of the province, under Maskwacis. The sudden influx and distribution of wealth came with consequences — a rise in violence and suicides was attributed to the discovery of oil there, according to a 2016 report by the Samson Cree band. It’s a narrative that often plays out during boom times in many mainstream communities, which see spikes in addictions, crime and violence when the money flows.
Much of the oil in Maskwacis was extracted by 2000 and band councils stopped annual royalty payments to members in 1998. Still, there is a reliance on oil that’s ingrained within — from on-reserve housing power and heat deficiencies to the federal purses that fund on-reserve programs, because the width of federal budgets depends on oil revenues that are now fading.
But Lonechild wants First Nations to learn from past mistakes of booms on oil-rich reserves that saw royalties distributed, spent and gone when the oil dried up.
Calling the shots
“These large sums of royalties were not sustained. We want to get it right this time and build knowledge through renewable energy.”
FNPA brings a new approach, flipping the scales. This time, the decisions will be made by Indigenous Peoples from the top of the money trail.
The culture behind the business is transforming, he said. Having majority ownership in energy projects will enable Indigenous stakeholders to call the shots on distribution, re-investment and future planning.
FNPA will face challenges in its ambitious goals. The oil industry still rules the land in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Switching to renewables here will happen at a slower pace than in the rest of the country.
The renewable energy market faces stiff competition from the long-standing fossil-fuel industry that’s fighting to stay in the game, said Peter Tertzakian, an economist and author with the Arc Energy Research Institute.
“When trying to push out an established business, they (industry) don’t sit still,” he warned attendees at the FNPA gathering in Enoch. “They become more efficient to diversify the industry. You have head-to-head competition.”
But it’s not about putting the oil and gas sector out of business, assured Glen Pratt, CEO of George Gordon Developments Ltd. of George Gordon First Nation. Instead, he said, it’s about Indigenous sovereignty and reducing emissions with the goal of healing Mother Earth.
“We don’t want people to lose their jobs,” Pratt said. “Indigenous Peoples want to be a part of reducing emissions, but also be a part of the economy to create self-determination.”
A new solar farm for Saskatchewan
George Gordon Developments — along with the economic development brand of Star Blanket Cree Nation in southern Saskatchewan and Natural Forces, a private independent power producer — is constructing a 10-megawatt solar farm near Weyburn, Sask. The Pesakastew Solar Project is set to be up and running in 2020 and will supply clean energy to the Saskatchewan electrical grid. It will provide electricity to approximately 2,400 homes and displace 18,860 tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually. It’s a project that FNPA helped to facilitate.
George Gordon and Star Blanket own 51 per cent of Pesakastew Solar Project. According to Pratt, the project will bring an approximate $750,000 return for all partners.
He envisions George Gordon eventually building a one-megawatt on-reserve solar facility with the money earned from the Pesakastew project. From there, the community would sell a portion of the power generated back to SaskPower and re-invest in energy-efficient community initiatives and social programming.
In May, the FNPA signed a First Nations Opportunity Agreement with SaskPower for 20 megawatts of new utility-scale solar generation projects. The agreement is estimated to be worth $85 million over the course of 20 years. There are dozens of small- to large-scale projects involving solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, battery and other renewable energy technologies in various stages of development, Lonechild said.
Access to capital is one of the biggest barriers for many Indigenous stakeholders wanting to join the renewable resource economic wave — because, unlike most real estate, reserve lands can’t be put up for collateral. That’s where power companies, public and private, along with governments, are invited to get on board, Lonechild said.
In return, corporate entities and governments reap the benefits of consent for industrial development from partnering with First Nation communities who have the land base.
When industry and governments make deals with FNPA members, it’s a partnership that opens the door to a new way ahead — and this time, Indigenous Peoples are calling the shots.
Mike Martelli, president of renewable power for Ontario Power Generation, believes corporations are waking up to the fact that demographics in society are shifting and more industrial projects are spanning Indigenous territories.
“It starts with leadership within the companies,” Martelli said. “No energy project will move forward without the participation of First Nations.” SOURCE
Renewables and cleantech aren’t growing at a pace to absorb the hundreds of jobs the oilpatch sheds monthly. And then there’s the question of skill sets
It was on Monday, Oct. 21 — Election Day — that Jeff (not his real name) got his layoff notice from Husky Energy Inc., the Calgary-based oil and gas company. The coincidence of the timing wasn’t lost on him.
“I had voted Conservative literally hours before I was informed I would lose my job … because I knew a Conservative government would help our oil and gas sector and get that damn pipeline built,” he said.
The election results — a minority victory for a Liberal Party that has long been viewed by many in the West as not supportive of the oil and gas industry — only added to Jeff’s feeling of hopelessness that day. He is in his late 40s and had worked at Husky in their head office for a little more than 20 years, primarily in an administrative role, although he said he gained significant technical know-how about the sector over the years.
“I kind of knew this was coming, because everyone around us has been losing jobs over the past five years,” he said. “I just didn’t think it would be me, right on that very day.”
Canada’s oilpatch has been struggling since oil prices bottomed out in late 2014, so its troubles are not exactly a new development. Roughly 50,000 jobs have been lost over the past five years, and an estimated 7,600 positions are at risk of being lost in 2019, according to Petroleum Labour Market Information, a division of Energy Safety Canada. The unemployment rate among young men in Alberta is now at a whopping 19.9 per cent, up almost four percentage points from a month ago.
Policymakers have been scrambling to keep up with the traditional energy industry’s downturn and quell a brewing sense of resentment and hopelessness in the Western provinces. On the election trail, the rhetoric of “retraining oil and gas workers” to transition to jobs in renewable energy or cleantech was frequently touted as a solution, but the reality of that transition is incredibly complex, and involves far more than just retraining.
For starters, renewables and cleantech are not growing at a pace that can absorb the hundreds of jobs that the oilpatch is shedding monthly. There is also the question of skill sets, since working as a reservoir engineer does not exactly qualify someone to scoop up a job on a solar farm, simply because of how technically different those industries are. Salaries in the oilpatch — even in an administrative position like Jeff’s — are also comparably high, a disincentive for many to seek work outside the industry.
“The jobs are not returning,” said Cheryl Knight, the former chief executive of PetroLMI who is now an independent consultant researching labour trends in the Canadian energy sector. “So the answer to the question of how to help underemployed and unemployed oil and gas workers is individual in some ways. It depends on how motivated the person is, how much training is required, and how much time it takes to get there. It is not as simple as saying, ‘We’ll just retrain people.’”
The jobs are not returning
Knight has spent nearly three years researching what kinds of jobs are being lost in the oilpatch and what sectors could potentially absorb the newly unemployed. They include, but are not confined to, petrochemical manufacturing, cleantech and power generation from both renewable and non-renewable sources such as wind and solar energy.
Rooftop solar programs created roughly 4,300 private-sector jobs, contributing $850 million to provincial GDP, between April 2017 and March 2019, according to data from the provincial agency Energy Efficiency Alberta.
Over time, the solar industry could have the capacity to create up to 10,000 jobs, said David Kelly, chief executive of SkyFire Energy Inc., one of the largest solar providers to residential and commercial buildings in Alberta.
“I just hired six people over the last three weeks,” Kelly said. “There are many ongoing jobs in electrical and maintenance work. Just about every electrician I have hired has done work in oil and gas.”
Such news might seem promising, but resource economist Sven Anders, a professor at the University of Alberta, cautions it is unlikely that the renewable energy sector alone will be able to generate the number of jobs needed to absorb job losses in the long run.
“Take wind, for instance,” he said. “There is going to be a lot of employment for the period in which the wind farm is being built. But once that construction has been completed, you basically just need a handful of engineers for maintenance.”
Knight’s research shows that tradesmen coming from oil and gas have highly transferable skills and employment opportunities in wind and solar, but project managers and design engineers are more likely to require renewable energy experience.
Kelly said that perhaps 30 per cent of his workforce comes from oil and gas, but most of them are electricians because they have the most transferable set of skills between both industries.
Adam Yereniuk, director of operations at Kuby Renewable Energy Ltd., another solar company in Alberta, said it has been difficult to find the right employees, especially those who have the technical know-how to work in solar.
“We try to hire out of NAIT and SAIT, because we know those graduates have specific knowledge,” he said, referring to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, two popular polytechnics that offer specific programs tailored toward retraining oil and gas workers.
But complicating the hiring process is that wages in the solar and wind sectors are simply not as high as in oil and gas.
“We don’t really hire directly from oil and gas, because we just cannot compete with the wages that sector pays. I can’t pay as much as Suncor,” Yereniuk said.
Case in point, Oksana Treacy, a project manager at SkyFire who formerly worked at Encana Corp., had to invest in pursuing a master’s degree in sustainable energy at the University of Calgary, in addition to taking a pay cut, before she could enter the solar industry.
“I was laid off right at the beginning of 2015, and I looked for a job unsuccessfully for about a year,” she said. “I leveraged all my contacts in oil and gas, but not a single person was hiring.”
Treacy said she felt her oil and gas experience was not taken seriously when she tried to apply to renewable companies.
“There was just so much competition,” she said. “I was lucky that I had been making good money and I could afford to retrain myself.”
Bruce Wilson, a former engineer at Royal Dutch Shell PLC., who currently works as a consultant for Iron and Earth, a B.C.-based organization that helps transition oil and gas workers into the renewable energy sector, believes that the potential of renewables is being severely understated.
For one thing, he said, clean energy costs are continuing to fall. He points to a research study conducted by the Rocky Mountain Institute that shows how wind, solar and energy technologies have improved and dropped “precipitously” in price, so much so that clean-energy portfolios comprised of these technologies are currently cost-competitive with new natural gas power plants, and provide the same reliable service.
“If we make a conscious decision to power our world, our industry and our homes with renewable energy sources, we could create that demand for jobs,” Wilson said.
But in the meantime, that leaves thousands of people without jobs. PetroLMI data show the bulk of the job losses in the oil and gas sector over the past five years have come from those involved in exploration and production, and oil and gas services. In other words, the engineers, geologists and business and project management staff that help find new oilfields.
There was a sharp increase in jobs related to pipeline services in late 2017 and early 2018, because of the number of pipeline projects ramping up back then. The former NDP government in Alberta forecast that the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline could bring the region an additional 15,000 jobs.
But Knight notes that these jobs will be unsustainable in the long run if they don’t directly involve the de-carbonization of the oil and gas sector.
The re-elected Liberal federal government has pledged to turn Canada into a carbon-neutral nation by 2050, in line with international climate goals. Whether or not that will materialize, most climate experts agree that meeting even part of that goal will require a monumental shift in Canada’s fossil fuel industry that sees it either transitioning into renewables or making massive investments in emissions-reduction technology such as carbon storage.
Energy companies in Alberta and Saskatchewan have started focusing heavily on investing in clean technology innovations such as carbon offsets, methane emissions reductions and environmental regulation compliance, all potential sources of new employment for those already in the sector.
Clean technology ventures related to the oil and gas sector accounted for $615 million in GDP and generated more than 4,500 jobs in 2018, according to Calgary Economic Development.
“Many of the services and occupations required to implement cleantech already work in oil and gas, and they pay well,” Knight said.
For example, chemical, mechanical or environmental engineers, as well as welders and electricians should be able to seek direct employment in any kind of venture related to reducing methane-emissions.
But these jobs are focused on innovations designed to reduce emissions, not eliminate them altogether, and are ultimately still in the oil and gas industry.
“We can’t have it both ways,” Wilson said. “You can fix the problem of jobs with five bucks now or 10 bucks later. We will ultimately need to transition out of the oil and gas industry altogether.”
To be sure, there are also startups sprouting up in Calgary dedicated to non-oil and gas cleantech solutions, such as using hydrogen as a low carbon fuel, particularly for heating, transporting energy and lower-emission vehicles. But in the short term, these startups do not generate nearly enough jobs to compensate for those lost in the oilpatch.
“Cleantech employers are small employers and they operate completely differently in terms of how they hire and who they hire,” Knight said. “There are a lot of word-of-mouth introductions that happen and those who don’t have existing networks in cleantech do not do well in that ecosystem.”
That leaves people such as Jeff, the Husky Energy employee who was laid off on Election Day, feeling “lost” as to what to do next with his career. Granted, he worked in an administrative role at Husky, so transferring his skills might perhaps be easier for him, but he is reluctant to leave the oil and gas sector.
My uncle, my brothers, we all work in oil and gas. We’ve done this forever
Jeff, former Husky Energy employee
“The idea that the sector is shutting down — because that’s what I hear people saying — is just very difficult for me to process,” he said. “My uncle, my brothers, we all work in oil and gas. We’ve done this forever.”
Understanding the West’s pride in their homegrown industry is something that Anders at the University of Alberta believes is severely lacking from any of the political decisions or announcements focused on the oil sector. For example, the Liberals in their most recent budget pledged a multitude of tax credits under the banner of “The Canada Training Benefit” program with the aim of helping transitioning workers from one sector to another.
“These people, their livelihoods and cultures are built around this industry,” Anders said. “Ultimately, the people of Western Canada need to be told that ‘Yes, we value you for what you are doing, but we would like to help you make that next step’, without giving them the impression that we don’t care about how proud they are of their fossil fuels.” SOURCE
A rapid transition to clean energy would create, not eliminate, jobs.
This month, when diplomats met in Poland to negotiate the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the United States took on the role of the villain. The United States, which plans to formally withdraw from the pact, rejected a landmark scientific report and touted the need for fossil fuels. Why? In justifying his opposition to the Paris Agreement, Trump has repeatedly said that it will eliminate millions of U.S. jobs.
According to research, however, his position is unfounded, especially over the long term. By working to achieve the stated goal of the Paris Agreement, to limit warming to 2 degrees C, most countries will see a net gain in employment.
“Our findings show that if we take action to limit climate change, we will have more jobs by 2030 than by not doing anything,” said Guillermo Montt, author of the study and a senior economist in the research department of the International Labor Office, a special UN agency that focuses on labor issues. “More jobs will be created than those that are lost, so the economy and countries as a whole stand to gain.”
The study, which appears in the journal International Labour Review, found that accelerating the transition to clean energy could add 24 million jobs globally by 2030. In reaching their conclusions, Montt and his colleagues developed a model of the world economy to reflect how it would look with widespread adoption of renewables and enhanced energy efficiency. They found the impact in the renewables sector will ripple across other industries, such as construction and manufacturing.
“Energy is related to many other sectors in the economy. Changes in energy affect the rest of the economy as well, affecting jobs all over,” Montt said. “Also, there are more jobs in a world with renewables and energy efficiency because we need more workers to produce one gigawatt-hour of electricity from renewables than from fossil fuels.” MORE
New research, led by Mark Lewis, our Global Head of our Sustainability Research, shows that oil needs a long-term breakeven price of USD 10 – 20/barrel to remain competitive in mobility.
The economics of renewables are impossible for oil to compete with when looked at over the cycle
Renewable electricity has a short-run marginal cost of zero, is cleaner environmentally, could readily replace up to 40% of global oil demand
The oil industry should remember the fate of utilities
In a white paper, published this week, Mark introduces the concept of the Energy Return on Capital Invested (EROCI), focusing on the energy return on a USD 100 bn outlay on oil and renewables where the energy is being used to power cars and other light-duty vehicles (LDVs).
For a given capital outlay on oil and renewables, how much useful energy at the wheel do we get?
Our analysis indicates that for the same capital outlay today, new wind and solar-energy projects in tandem with battery electric vehicles will produce 6x – 7x more useful energy at the wheels than will oil at USD 60/barrel for gasoline powered light-duty vehicles, and 3x – 4x more than will oil at USD 60/barrel for light-duty vehicles running on diesel.
Accordingly, the research calculates that the long-term break-even oil price for gasoline to remain competitive as a source of mobility is USD 9 – 10/barrel, and for diesel USD 17 – 19/barrel.
Oil has a massive flow-rate advantage, but this is time limited
The oil industry is so massive that the amounts available for purchase on the spot market can provide very large and effectively instantaneous flows of energy. By contrast, new wind and solar projects deliver their energy over a 25-year operating life. Nonetheless, we think the economics of renewables are impossible for oil to compete with when looked at over the cycle. MORE
Oilsands emissions cap? What oilsands emissions cap? Kenney has promised he will “absolutely” scrap the cap. Canada’s climate commitments include an 80 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2050. This means cutting total emissions to 150 megatonnes — across the entire country — in three decades. Projects that have already received approvals add up to 131 megatonnes, according to the Pembina Institute.
Incoming Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and federal Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer greet one another at the UCP convention in Red Deer, Alta. Photo: Andrew Scheer / Flickr
Regulations and renewables are on the outs and battles with environmental groups are in, as Kenney promises to accelerate approvals of energy projects, scrap efficiency measures and fund an ‘energy war room’ to fight anyone who criticizes the province’s energy sector
Welcome to a new world — a world of “war rooms,” red-tape reductions and some rapid-fire repeals of existing programs and legislation.
1. Regulation? Let’s cut it.
Kenney has made it clear that a UCP government will be all about “streamlining” and “efficiencies.”
At the same time, his “red tape reduction action plan” will “cut red tape by a third.” There will be a new so-called “one-in, one-out” rule that will require that every new regulation created is offset by the elimination of an existing regulation.
He’ll even appoint a “Minister for Red Tape Reduction.”
Red tape, according to the UCP, is a “costly and growing burden” that “kills jobs.”
2. Parks: privatized services and more booze!
Given the heated backlash over the province’s Bighorn Country proposal earlier this year, it won’t come as a surprise if the UCP doesn’t pursue the planned parks and recreation areas.
Kenney had previously described the NDP’s Bighorn land-use plans as “an extreme approach to land use which cuts out local residents and legitimate economical and recreational use.”
The UCP has, however, pledged to provide $10 million to support the creation of a new urban provincial park within Edmonton city limits.
It has also pledged that “major environmental protection proposals” will be subject to a review of their economic impacts to ensure they are not harmful to the economy — a “balance,” the party says, to current environmental impact assessments of industrial projects.
The party’s platform outlines an increased emphasis of partnerships with park societies, and suggests the UCP will support increased volunteer activities to maintain parks.
An initial pilot project will determine if nearly all park services could be privatized, by examining “whether park societies could effectively be contracted to assume all park management responsibilities from [Alberta Environment and Parks], with the exception of enforcement.”
But, hey — soon we’ll be able to relax with a glass of wine after a long day of trail maintenance. The UCP has pledged to “relax liquor constraints in a number of provincial parks” as well as loosening liquor laws in municipal parks MORE
“Every dollar spent on energy transition would pay off up to seven times.”
AERIAL VIEW OF BLOOMING RAPESEED FLOWERS NEXT TO A PHOTOVOLTAIC POWER STATION AT LIANGYUAN TOWN ON MARCH 29, 2019 IN HEFEI, ANHUI PROVINCE OF CHINA. (PHOTO BY WANG WEN/VCG VIA GETTY IMAGES)
Imagine a world where 85% of all electricity comes from renewable sources, there are over one billion electric vehicles on the road, and we are on track to preserve a livable climate for our children and future generations.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reported this week that such a future is not merely possible by 2050, but thanks to plummeting prices in key clean energy technologies, the cost of saving the climate has dropped dramatically.
In fact, according to IRENA’s new report, the most cost-effective strategy to achieve a “climate-safe future” — keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) — is an accelerated energy transition to renewables and energy efficiency coupled with electrification of key sectors like transportation.
This Renewable Energy Roadmap (REmap) scenario “would also save the global economy up to USD 160 trillion cumulatively over the next 30 years in avoided health costs, energy subsidies and climate damages.” MORE
Electric utility (re)municipalization is gaining popularity as a strategy to shift away from a reliance on fossil fuel extraction in the context of combating climate change. Across the world—from Berlin to Boulder—communities have initiated campaigns to take back their power from investor-owned (private) utilities and create publicly owned and operated utilities. Moreover, such efforts are increasingly taking on the perspective and language of energy democracy.
Energy democracy seeks not only to solve climate change, but to also address entrenched systemic inequalities. It is a vision to restructure the energy future based on inclusive engagement, where genuine participation in democratic processes provides community control and renewable energy generates local, equitably distributed wealth (Angel, 2016; Giancatarino, 2013a; Yenneti & Day, 2015). By transitioning from a privately- to a publicly owned utility, proponents of energy democracy hope to democratize the decision-making process, eliminate the overriding goal of profit maximization, and quickly transition away from fossil fuels.
Utilities are traditionally profit-oriented corporations whose structures are based on a paradigm of extraction. Following the path of least resistance, they often burden communities who do not have the political or financial capital to object to the impacts of their fossil fuel infrastructure. Residents living within three miles of a coal plant, for instance, are more likely to earn a below-average annual income and be a person of color (Patterson et al., 2011); similar statistics have been recorded for natural gas infrastructure (Bienkowski, 2015).
These utilities are in a moment of existential crisis with the rise of renewables. From gas pipelines to coal power plants, their investments are turning into stranded assets, as political leaders and investors realize that eliminating fossil fuels from the energy mix is paramount to creating healthy communities and stemming climate change. MORE
Last year, the U.S.’s carbon-dioxide emissions increased by an estimated 3.4 per cent, the second-largest gain in the past two decades. Photograph by Fernando Moleres / Panos Pictures / Redux
In 1974, the economist William Nordhaus described the transition from a “cowboy economy” to a “spaceship economy.” In the former, he wrote, “we could afford to use our resources profligately,” and “the environment could be used as a sink without becoming fouled.” But, in the spaceship economy, “great attention must be paid to the sources of life and to the dumps where our refuse is piled.” He added, “Things which have traditionally been treated as free goods—air, water, quiet, natural beauty—must now be treated with the same care as other scarce goods.”
“It’s absolutely the case that emissions and growth can be decoupled,” Marshall Burke, an assistant professor in Stanford University’s Department of Earth System Science, told me.
“But the switch to nuclear and renewables needs to happen more rapidly. “It takes policy. It won’t happen through markets alone.”
As a small but growing coalition of congressional Democrats, led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have outlined as part of their Green New Deal, transforming the energy sector—and, really, the entire economy, in a just and more equitable way—will require some sort of carbon tax (preferably a “fee and dividend” approach, which distributes tax revenues as rebates directly to citizens), and also new regulations and huge investments. “We can decarbonize the electric sector at a fairly low cost….That’s where some of the cheapest emissions reductions are to be found. Extensive government subsidies could hasten the spread of renewables—specifically, solar, wind, and batteries—and offset any rise in emissions elsewhere….There are ways to reduce the use of fossil fuels in heating; utilities, for instance, can create incentive programs so that homeowners have a motivation to replace their boilers with electric heat pumps. MORE
Encavis hybrid solar and wind energy installation in Germany
Global consulting firm Wood Mackenzie has released a new report with the snappy title “Thinking global energy transitions: The what, if, how and when.” It claims 2035 will be the year when the world’s transition to renewable energy reaches critical mass. That year will be the “point of singularity,” the time when the world moves away from oil and gas to enter the age of renewables.
In an interview with PV Magazine, Christian Breyer, professor of solar economy at Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland, puts the need for urgency in stark terms.
“We already have no other appropriate options than this 100% renewables pathway. This is not science fiction but a real world scenario that must be taken into serious consideration, unless we don’t want to commit a collective suicide. But this is not only a matter of survival, it is also the cheapest way to shape our energy future, as solar and renewables have the potential to reduce the LCOE of global power supply from €70/MWh in 2015 to between 50 and €55/MWh by 2050.
“The easiest part of this trajectory will be the switch to renewables of the power sector, while the hard job will have to be done for the transport, industry and chemical sectors. In the transport sector, marine and aviation will also have to go through electrification, as economically they only work with low-cost electricity, and this will come mainly from renewables in the future, particularly from solar.”
Professor Breyer concludes his interview with this thought. “A world energy system based exclusively on renewable energies and an almost fully electrified world are our only chances to avoid further disasters. This is absolutely doable, and at lower costs than today.” MORE