November 25, 2011 / By Pierre Guimond

Clean Electricity Sets Canada Apart

As published by Mediaplanet Publishing House Ltd and circulated in the National Post newspaper on November 24, 2011.

Our world increasingly demands cleaner energy. Canada’s electricity sector delivers.

According to Statistics Canada, roughly 80 percent of Canada’s electricity is generated from non- and lower-emitting sources. Very few countries enjoy such a clean power system.

Even better, this clean energy advantage will grow over the coming decades. By 2030, we could easily increase Canada’s clean electricity production to 90 percent of the total – if we are able to make the necessary investments in our electricity infrastructure.

Renewable energy – mostly hydro power – is the major contributor to our clean mix now. About 60 percent of our power is generated by water-power plants across Canada. Nuclear power, also with virtually no greenhouse gas emissions, accounts for another 15 percent of our clean electricity supply.

Wind and solar are green power sources that are gaining momentum in most provinces. Canada has the ninth largest wind energy portfolio in the world while Ontario’s solar industry – with more than 30 manufacturers – could one day make the province a world-class solar manufacturing hub.

Other clean technologies such as biomass, geothermal, tidal and wave power and clean coal are under development or being added to our supply.

Canada’s electricity mix is diverse, and growing more so by the year. Each electricity source has an important role to play in ensuring we have power when we need it.

For example, while technologies such as hydro and nuclear require more time and capital to build, they operate continuously and with low costs, meeting our constant power needs. Other energy types such as fossil fuels and biomass have the advantage of starting up or shutting down quickly, so they make the system more flexible. Stored water behind dams meets power needs during those hours when our demands are highest. Newer, renewable technologies such as wind and solar operate only intermittently (when the wind blows and the sun shines), but are quick to build, very clean, and increasingly economic as these technologies mature.

We need to maintain, and enhance, this clean and diverse electricity system. To do so will require significant investment over the coming decades.

Capital investment in electricity infrastructure declined dramatically in the 1990s. After reaching a peak of $15 billion in 1991, investment fell rapidly to just $5.3 billion in 1997. The average age of Canada’s electricity generating units is about 32 years.

The Conference Board of Canada forecasts that Canada must invest $294 billion, or $15 billion a year, in its electricity infrastructure between now and 2030, both to meet our growing power needs and to replace aging generating stations, as well as transmission and distribution equipment.

While this is a significant cost, reinvesting in the electricity grid will guarantee future supply reliability. It will also make the system even cleaner, with large amounts of renewable generation added and most coal plants retired or capturing their greenhouse gas emissions.

We also have an unprecedented opportunity to stimulate the economy by supporting economic infrastructure investment that creates wealth. A recent CIBC Economics Report, “Energizing Infrastructure,” makes the case for moving forward with electricity investments. According to CIBC Vice-Chairman Jim Prentice (a former federal Minister of both Industry and Environment): “For every $1 billion investment in the electricity sector, CIBC economists estimate close to 1,100 jobs will be created, for a grand total of more than 320,000 jobs building electricity infrastructure over the next two decades.”

A dialogue on the need to invest in Canada’s future electricity system has already begun among politicians and stakeholders. Much of the focus is on the challenges – the large investment required; expanding the role of the private sector; reducing regulatory overlap, inefficiencies and costs that can be cleared away in the system; and the need for clearer public communications on investing in our electricity infrastructure.

Expanding this dialogue with Canadians is an imperative. An even cleaner and more reliable power system is achievable if Canadians are willing to make and support the necessary investments.

Click here to access the original publication of this editorial (see page 4).

About the CEA

Canadian Electricity Association (CEA) members generate, transmit and distribute electrical energy to industrial, commercial, residential and institutional customers across Canada every day. From vertically integrated electric utilities, to power marketers, to the manufacturers and suppliers of materials, technology and services that keep the industry running smoothly — all are represented by this national industry association.