December 11, 2023 / By Current Affairs

A year in review with Francis Bradley

After this November’s Powering Partnerships Symposium and board meeting, Electricity Canada settles into December, reflects on an incredible year and prepares for what is on the horizon! Current Affairs sat down with President and CEO Francis Bradley for a 2023 recap.

Hi Francis, thank you for joining us. This year has already been a standout, beginning with the Federal Budget’s investments of electrification and ending with the draft Clean Energy Regulations. What has been the most exciting thing to see?

I think from my perspective it would be the first of those, the federal budget and its investment. This is the first time we've actually seen real and substantial support for clean electricity investments from the Government of Canada. This is absolutely historic! We’ve been suggesting for many years now that decarbonization through electrification is a public good. It's a national priority and it’s an expansion on the electricity system to meet this national aspiration. As a public good, the additional costs relating to meeting our greenhouse gas reduction ambitions should be borne by society as a whole, not just by electricity customers, because the electricity sector is expected to decarbonize the rest of the economy. As a result, we need to look at how we're funding this, and fund it appropriately.

One in every $8 of new spending in the budget is aimed at clean electricity investments. That's a great story. However, this is not a silver bullet. But it is a start. It’s a very important first step and it shows a willingness on the part of the federal government to put its money where its mouth is, to use the words of Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault on the night of the budget.

We’ve just hosted one of our biggest events of the year at Powering Partnerships highlighting “The Future Of…” with topics discussing the North, technology, artificial intelligence, transportation, electricity, and the future of people, what is your take on the future of Electricity Canada as an organization?

As an association, we've been the nucleus of the electricity sector for more than 132 years. I've been here for 37 of those years. What I've seen in my time here is that we’ve been successful as an organization because we’re able to repeatedly reinvent ourselves and, like the industry we represent, we are nimble in that way.

When I began here at Electricity Canada, or should I say when I began here two name changes ago when we were the Canadian Electrical Association, our primary focus was operational: it was information exchange of a technical nature and technical research. Now, we’ve evolved over time and we’ve changed as the needs of the industry have changed in terms of what they need from a national association. Consequently, we’ve become an advocacy organization. Since our last strategic plan, we're increasingly now focused really on the future – on emerging issues and on the policy, legislative and regulatory changes that are going to be required to enable that.

I think Powering Partnerships really was a great example of that future focus. It was the culmination of the changes that we've been bringing to the association for the past several years in terms of making sure that we were clearly focused on the future.

What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for the electricity sector in 2024?

It’s going to be all about reliability, affordability and decarbonization. Certainly, in the year ahead, but not just in the year ahead. In fact, it will continue to be about reliability, affordability and decarbonization out to 2050 – and how we balance those three things. We need to work out what are the policies that we need in order to reach our aspirations of a net zero economy in 2050.

So, 2024, is the next step in all of this is that we have to figure out how we get good projects built and how we get them built faster.

We also need to simplify the approval process and get rid of overlapping processes and we need to get rid of duplication between different levels of government.

Furthermore, to do all this we're going to need people to achieve the energy transition. Unfortunately, I see nothing in 2024 that suggests that we'll suddenly have a solution to the skills and talent shortage. There are a lot of people seeking to address this problem, including our members and our partners at Electricity Human Resources Canada.

The other thing that keeps me worrying is supply chains. The delays for critical equipment is actually growing – I'm hearing this from a quite a few of our members that those delays are not getting shorter. There is also competition from other sectors that have very similar needs and are also growing such as transportation, telecommunication. And there’s competition from the U.S. thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act.

In 2024 while these challenges will absolutely be a high priority for us. However, but they are also opportunities. In fact, I think I think there are huge opportunities when we're talking about building that cleaner, brighter and better future.

We have the opportunity to develop and implement new technologies and new solutions that are going to result in making life better through a cleaner economy, more comfort, more convenience for customers. And we also have this opportunity to do so equitably, and use the massive growth that we're going to see in the electricity sector to be the means for reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples as our sector increasingly welcomes them as partners.

Switching gears here, you are almost at the 90th episode of the Flux Capacitor. Who would be your dream guest when you crack 100 and why?

If I could use my Flux Capacitor time machine, I’d go back to 1891 and I'd bring in J.J. Wright, the founder of this organization. I’d put him in the passenger seat of the DeLorean and bring them to the future so that he'd look around and I suspect his initial reaction would be amazement at all that has happened and how different society is because of the electrification. On the other hand, maybe he'd be disappointed coming from 1891 and jumping out to 2023 and looking around and wondering where's the flying car?

If I had to pick somebody who was a living person… I would get Bill Gates as a guest on the podcast. He would be absolutely fascinating to talk about generally because of all that he's done throughout his career and the massive impact on a lot of the technologies that he's brought forward. I'd like to really unpack with him the book he wrote a couple of years ago, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.

It was a fascinating read, and while it was about the impending climate disaster, and it was very hopeful. I don't know if somebody's got a friend that happens to know Bill Gates, but there you go.