Federal Natural Resources and Energy Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said developing the clean electricity grid of the future – the cleaner, bigger electricity grid needed to support a net-zero economy – is “akin to a nation-building project”. of the railway. ”
Comparisons with Canada’s great achievements in the 19th century require some caution. But aside from the worst elements of railroad construction, this comparison suggests both the importance of the work and the effort required to complete it. From concept to final spike, the national rail project took 14 years to complete.
So, how is it so far?
“I think things are going better than a lot of people hear and think in the media,” Wilkinson said in an interview last month.
The minister spoke at the end of a year that saw much talk about federal-provincial conflicts over electricity. The new year’s headlines began in earnest this week as the Alberta government tried to drag federal clean power regulations into the debate over the province’s power grid and its resilience to the recent cold snap.
But perhaps the 21st century’s great power building project isn’t going so badly after all. Or maybe it doesn’t need to be.
In some ways, Canada is already a long way toward building the clean electricity grid we need. Approximately 80% of the electricity used in Canada comes from non-emitting sources.
But Canada’s electricity grid is also not a single integrated system. Each state manages its own power grid, and there is limited integration between states. And that 80% figure hides some important regional differences.
More than 90 per cent of the electricity consumed in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba comes from non-emitting sources. But less than 20 per cent comes from non-emitting sources in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“I think the biggest challenge is the disparity between states in starting points,” he said. blake schafer, an economist at the University of Calgary who specializes in electricity markets. “This isn’t a ‘sorry for Alberta’ kind of comment. Rather, it’s more of a reality check that this is a game-changer for Alberta and Saskatchewan and, to a lesser extent, Nova Scotia.”
Eliminating remaining emissions from Canada’s electricity supply is only half the job. Total power generation amount will be required 1.6 to 2.1 times By 2050, as the population grows and electricity becomes the primary source of energy used to heat cars and homes.
Greening the power grid faces many obstacles, including local opposition to energy projects, affordability concerns, and a lack of interstate grid connectivity. To this end, the Canadian Climate Institute is promoting “electric federalism,” the idea that the federal government uses convening powers and financial resources to drive change and ease transitions.
value around the table
Mr. Wilkinson entered federal politics with a background in state government. He served as Saskatchewan’s negotiator during the Charlottetown Accords and later managed federal and provincial affairs in Roy Romanoff’s NDP government. His experience clearly influences his approach to resource portfolios.
Under his leadership, the federal government began establishing a series of “regional tables” with states on resources and energy in 2022. This is a formal forum for federal and state officials to discuss priorities and potential cooperation. By the end of the year, seven provinces had signed on, his two notable exceptions being Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan remains resilient. Mr Wilkinson said he received a 14-page letter from the state government explaining why there was no interest. But Alberta and the federal government finally agreed last summer to establish a “working group.” (The table focuses on more than electricity.)
“What I learned from that is [working in Saskatchewan] It’s just that the states are really different,” Wilkinson said. “The concerns are different. The economies are different. The opportunity sets are different. And trying to address them all through the same prism is really difficult.”
Alberta has been one of the most vocal opponents of federal climate and energy policy. However, Wilkinson remains positive about the work being done behind the scenes. “The fact that the working group is continuing amid the war of words over clean power regulations and caps on oil and gas emissions suggests that both sides think progress is being made,” he said. Stated.
But to adapt to Alberta’s situation and perhaps reduce disagreements, the federal government may need to be more flexible in finalizing electricity regulations.Schafer and University of Alberta professor Andrew Leach Discussed As many as possible. And Wilkinson seems inclined to show at least some flexibility.
“I don’t think Alberta is questioning the need to green the grid. But they are questioning the pace. They have a view that maybe we can do it faster. So “We’ve really tried to understand and consider how we can ‘address some of their specific concerns,'” he said.
“Hopefully when we arrive, [finalizing the regulations]Albertans will understand that we have seriously reflected on some of the things they have raised. ”
(Shafer claim The Liberals also made the mistake of using the term “net zero” to describe the regulations. This language obscures the flexibility that will still exist even after the regulation takes effect in 2035. )
Beyond noise and conflict, the federal government has advanced the following agreements: british columbia, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — However, the latter was not perfect. Atlantic Loop Mega Project the federal government I’ve been keeping an eye on it for 3 years.
Mr Wilkinson said the government had spent “a long time trying to push the thread up the Atlantic Loop hill” but several obstacles stood in its way. Quebec said it wasn’t sure it would have the power to export, while Nova Scotia and New Brunswick decided to focus on the benefits of building their own supplies of clean energy.
“The fundamental point where we were able to really pivot the conversation was, ‘Okay, let’s talk about what your plans are and what you’re actually interested in doing.’ “I think it was a time when I accepted that they thought differently,'” Wilkinson said.
For New Brunswick, that meant supporting biomass.in nova scotia Offshore wind power is prioritized. Both states are also working to expand their interstate power grid. Tory Rushton, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Natural Resources, said the province’s short-term goal is to transition away from coal-fired power, but its long-term vision is to become a clean energy exporter.
What the federal government can provide
Mr Wilkinson gradually (perhaps reluctantly) became a more active debater in the House of Commons. But he’s also still a process-oriented policy buff, someone who would say things like “redirect the conversation.” He discussed the federal-provincial table and said that “communication channels are being normalized.”
Communication is important in a federation. The same goes for the trust that Wilkinson says good communication can build. The minister also hopes that the new Canadian Electricity Advisory Committee, an expert panel known colloquially as the Grid Council, will be an important “sounder of ideas” for both the government and electricity regulators. He said that
Ottawa is also coming with a cash gift. The fine print of the Clean Power Regulation states that the federal government is committing $40 billion to help states and territories with electrification, which could cover more than half of the additional costs associated with implementing the new regulation. It’s the forehead.
Wilkinson said he believes the Clean Power Investment Tax Credit is the first federal tax credit ever offered to a local utility. He also said he was aware that states may need additional aid to build transmission lines (the proposed tax credits are designed to cover interstate transmission). (However, it does not cover intrastate power transmission.)
The minister also makes a fundamental economic case. The idea is that the ability to provide clean electricity will attract companies and industries that want or need to reduce their carbon emissions.
“At the end of the day, no one is interested in a power grid that is unreliable. No one is interested in a power grid that is not affordable,” he said. “And we’re all interested in non-radiating grids.”
For these reasons, nation-building projects in the 21st century may not be impossible. It may even be inevitable. But it’s not easy or quick.