You’ve probably heard that “electrification” is an important path to curbing climate change. The movement to switch from fossil fuels to electricity can be seen in the growing number of electric cars and buses on our streets and the heat pumps homeowners are swapping in for gas furnaces. But electrification only leads to a net-zero future if the electricity comes from low-carbon sources, like wind, solar, or hydro.
Thankfully, the Trudeau government has promised a regulation to require net-zero electricity across Canada by 2035. Public consultation on regulatory design is now underway, via a discussion paper titled A Clean Electricity Standard in support of a net-zero electricity sector. The paper signals the government is serious about its commitment to a net-zero electricity grid by 2035. This is welcome news because while some provinces, like B.C. and Quebec, have mostly clean, reliable grids already, many provinces still rely on fossil fuels to deliver electricity, including coal.
While Ontario shut down its last coal plant in 2014, emissions have been steadily rising for the last few years due to increased reliance on natural gas. The province has yet to outline a plan to transition to clean energy alternatives, and has even shut down plans for renewable energy projects, which could have helped reduce emissions in Ontario. Currently, the IESO forecasts a 340% emissions increase by 2030. We can’t afford to backslide and go back to relying again on fossil fuels like natural gas for electricity.
This week, a new IPCC report warns that the climate crisis is worsening and that it’s “now or never”. This is not the time to regress back to where we were ten years ago and ramp up natural gas (which, when life cycle emissions are accounted for, can be as bad for global warming as coal). We now know what it feels like to be trapped in a fossil fuel economy – it is not reliable or affordable. Our way out of this is to ensure that every province and territory transitions towards a clean, affordable, reliable electricity supply.
This discussion paper serves as a signal to provincial and territorial decision-makers that a clean electricity regulation is coming, discouraging investment in assets that could become stranded in the near future. The paper also indicates to industry that Canada will have a strong market for clean technology and renewable energy infrastructure in the coming decades. Decarbonizing the electricity supply will take innovation and investment from the provinces, utilities, system operators, the financial sector, and more, but the role of the federal Clean Electricity Standard has the power to set expectations that an energy shift in Canada is coming.
That’s what makes this consultation an important opportunity to provide comments and tell the federal government that Canadians want a clean energy grid and support a Clean Electricity Standard. We can’t leave the future of our electricity systems up to traditional decision-makers who tend to uphold the status quo; we need more voices at the table. We encourage our readers to submit feedback and share the opportunity with other stakeholders.
You can submit comments on Canada’s Clean Electricity Standard discussion paper until April 15th. Email comments ECD-DEC@ec.gc.ca, and consider answering the “Key Questions” on p.13 of the discussion paper.