Two reports shame Canadian ministers

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Canada needs to make renewable energy development a priority or risk becoming a bit player in the global energy economy of the future, says a respected Canadian environmental organisation. The Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development's new report, "Lost Opportunities: Canada and Renewable Energy," documents how the country lags behind other industrialised nations in the deployment of renewables. It points out that Canada supplies only about 4% of its total energy from non-hydro renewable sources, and is one of the only countries in the G7 without a comprehensive strategy to build a market for renewables.

"The race to develop the new energy technologies of the 21st century has begun and Canada is still getting to the start line," says Robert Hornung, the institute's climate change program director, who released the report on the eve of September's 56th annual meeting of Canada's federal and provincial energy ministers.

Hornung called on the ministers to commit their governments to "action on renewable energy" in their year 2000 budgets. "Canada's federal and provincial governments have historically played a huge role in the development of energy sources like nuclear power, offshore oil and the Alberta oilsands," he says. "Now they have a chance to promote technologies that promise both economic and environmental benefits."

At the same news conference, Canada's top renewable energy industry associations released their own report detailing regulatory and fiscal policies they want the energy ministers to pursue. Titled "Low-impact Renewable Energy: Options for a Clean Environment and Healthy Canadian Economy," the 18-page document outlines a series of measures designed to kick-start a domestic market for clean energy sources over the next ten years.

Taken together, the renewable sector's recommendations would cost about C$112 million a year over the next ten years to implement. But, the report says, they would also result in renewable energy investments of nearly C$1.5 billion a year, more than 19,000 person-years of employment each year, and annual health care savings of between C$20 and C$140 million. The expected reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 12 million tonnes a year is roughly 8% of Canada's total Kyoto target, which requires the country to reduce emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by 2012.

Action recommended

"The most significant dividends from these measures, however, will occur after 2010 as a result of having set in motion fundamental changes in the attitudes of Canadians," the report says. "By 2020, the spin-off actions prompted by these measures will likely have resulted in greenhouse gas reductions twice as great as those achieved in 2010."

The report recommends action on a number of fronts. Stimulating the market for renewable electricity through initiatives that include government green power procurement, a renewable portfolio standard, and a production credit or green consumer tax credit will reduce emissions by 4.1 million tonnes a year. By supporting the use of renewable technologies by consumers, through measures like net metering, credits for agricultural generation, a minimum 5% biofuel content in gasoline and a 50,000 solar roofs partnership, Canada can decrease its emissions by 6.1 million tonnes annually. Finally, the report says, incentives to encourage energy efficiency and greater passive solar use could result in emissions reductions of 1.9 million tonnes a year.

Carl Brothers of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, who presented the recommendations to energy ministers, says they were well received. "Whether this translates into increases in budgets, or commitments to the technology in any way, is not clear yet," says Brothers. "I'll be anxiously watching the next federal budget. I suspect that any success we have had will show up there."

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