As we look ahead to 2022 and the environmental benchmark of 2030 looms another year closer, a sense of urgency is taking over deliberations about our energy future here in Atlantic Canada.
We have just eight short years to reach the ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets Canada has put in place, committing our nation to cutting emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 targets by 2030.
We are well-positioned in the Atlantic region to make the transition to clean energy and we are already moving forward in such innovative areas as small modular reactors, hydrogen gas and the Atlantic Loop increased transmission lines. But there has to be more – there must be a transition in behaviour. We all have to start changing what we do and how we do it.
In the Atlantic provinces we have led the country in making significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over the past 15 years, largely on the backs of our electrical utilities and industry. The years ahead will need to include a focus on transportation fuels along with a shift in consumer behaviour and consumer consumption. The utilities can’t keep bearing all the work. We all have to start stepping up.
One of the biggest challenges we need to face is that a fast transition usually is an expensive transition, and with that comes a risk of suboptimal alternatives and solutions.
We have three really good options before us in this region: the Atlantic Loop, small modular reactors and hydrogen. The three of them together can get us to our long-term, aspirational goals from 2030 to 2050.
It will cost billions of dollars. For the Atlantic Loop, which will see transmission upgrades to allow non-emitting power from Labrador, Quebec and New Brunswick to displace coal use in the region, the price tag just to string the wires is at least $5 billion.
To date, no one knows where all that money will come from and that project alone will take more than eight years to complete.
Who is going to pay?
So the big question is: who is going to pay for all of this? We can expect plenty of dialogue between Ottawa and the provinces over how much these major transition projects are going to cost and who is going to pick up the tab.
Governments will have to do much more than argue with each other over costs. Together they must move swiftly to put in place the rules and regulations needed to govern and encourage the transformation to clean energy. The longer they dither, the greater chance of missing their goals. It will most likely come down to a combination of taxpayers and ratepayers, and either way that means you and me.
In hydrogen, for example, there are a number of companies that want to set up demonstration projects, but what are the rules and regulations? The fact is, nobody’s going to spend $70 million on a test project until the rules are clear.
Policy update needed
Atlantic governments must update their policy frameworks to accommodate new energy developments because there is a great deal of investment at stake, and without it we will not even come close to meeting our greenhouse gas reduction targets.
So change is going to be expensive and we have to prepare ourselves for that reality.
The good news is we’re going to be developing next-generation energy technology here in Atlantic Canada. It will mean more collaboration between our provinces as we develop regional solutions and reap the economic benefits that come with innovation.
We have every reason to be optimistic that by working together as a region we can move energy innovation forward, we can continue to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and we can achieve the economic stimulation that comes from developing solutions here at home.
It is critical that energy policies and regulations in the Atlantic provinces be modified and updated to reflect current and future energy needs, in particular with respect to developing and implementing new technologies.
So while eight years isn’t much, we have the talent and ability here in Atlantic Canada to pull together and effectively reshape our energy future in a rapidly changing world.
Stephen MacMackin is Chair of the Atlantica Centre for Energy.