Post Kyoto limbo

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Canada has signed the Kyoto convention and this we applaud. But if the convention is regarded as the vehicle of environmental progress, it is unfortunate that Canada is perceived to be part of the braking system -- and not the (wind powered) electric motor. The historical inability of federal and provincial governments to reach agreement on how to deal with climate change makes their ratification of the convention far from a foregone conclusion. Indeed, the federal government's final position at Kyoto may well have been a surprise to some of the provincial governments, who after all have responsibility for implementing it.

Where does this leave wind and the other renewables in Canada? In the perpetual state of limbo of the past two decades, where governments have mouthed environmental niceties, while carefully avoiding commitment of significant resources to laying the foundations for sustainable power generation.

Electric utility deregulation and open competition in electricity markets have been cited by government as a way for wind to get into the market. Well, not quite, since no environmental value is given to any wind produced green electricity in Canada, and in the one pool market now operating (Alberta), price is the only factor considered in electricity dispatch. Combine this with subsidised oil and coal generation and there is little hope that open markets will result in a cleaner environment. If the Kyoto commitment is translated into legislation that recognises the greater value of wind power, however, open competition would make wind an attractive option. Another potential mechanism to foster growth of wind energy is emissions trading credits, to which the Kyoto convention appears to have provided an enhanced legitimacy. In Canada, a pilot programme is about to get underway in British Columbia. While this may turn out to be a genuine incentive for wind energy, it must be carefully and rigorously implemented so that it does not become a licence for polluters.

Even with the emergence of open competition and emissions trading credits, renewable energy still needs recognition for its high intrinsic value. Perhaps the signing of the Kyoto convention is a (small) lurch in this direction -- and there is a federal pilot programme which attempts to recognise wind's added value.

On the doom and gloom side, the Business Council on National Issues says that any attempt to clean up our environment will result in economic catastrophe. Yet studies have shown that enthusiastic investment in sustainable technologies will at worst be close to revenue neutrality (for the economy, not the fossil fuel conglomerates) and may indeed be a vehicle for economic growth through the development and implementation of these very technologies.

This is not the time for tentative forays down the road to environmental sustainability. This is the time for serious commitment. That will require courageous government leadership. Canada has huge wind energy resources spread from coast to coast. Development of these resources would result in a contribution to meeting Canada's Kyoto commitment and the creation of a domestic wind energy and all its associated economic benefits and spin-offs. It would also be a badly needed start down the road in our electric vehicle to a sustainable society.

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