WHY IS SASKATCHEWAN SO FAR BEHIND ON RENEWABLE ENERGY?

BY Jim Harding

This is the fourth in the pre-election Series “Up Against the Wall”.

Our province is now Canada’s largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs). We have surpassed Alberta which previously held this notorious reputation. There are many reasons for this and none of them suggest that the Wall government has been forward-looking.

RENEWABLE ENERGY

Under Wall our province dropped to the bottom of the pack in terms of endorsing low-carbon renewable energy. In 2005 renewable energy, broadly defined, accounted for 24% of our electrical production. In 2011 it was still only 25% and this trend continues. And most of this (22-23%) is from hydro, which itself carries many nasty ecological impacts.

Wind power was only 2% of electrical generation in 2011 and this was mostly because of the Cypress Wind project near Gull Lake initiated by the previous NDP government. For years independent analysts have shown how wind from our wind-swept prairies could generate 20% of our electricity. And our neighbours, Manitoba and Alberta, along with Ontario, have steadily moved in this direction.

SIDETRACKED BY UDP

What was Wall’s government doing while this shift was occurring? It was bad-mouthing renewables while advancing nuclear power as some sort of value-added solution to the energy crisis. Remember all the public resources wasted with the Sask Party’s Uranium Development Partnership (UDP) during their first term? The UDP was so much in the pocket of industry that it recommended a uranium refinery, nuclear power along the North Saskatchewan River and a nuclear waste dump in the north. We’d be broke if these had proceeded.

The Wall government was backward, not forward-looking. The global trend was set in 2005, before the Sask Party was even elected, when electricity from renewables surpassed that from the nuclear industry. The share of the global electrical market provided by nuclear has steadily fallen and is now at only 11%, while the renewable sector has more than doubled. It is now approaching 25% of global electricity.

LIKE OLD ALBERTA

Premier Wall likes to brag that under his watch we became a “have-province”, like oil-rich Alberta. In fact we are more like the old Alberta not the new, modernizing Alberta. Even with its ties to the tar-sands Alberta has done much better with renewables. By 2011 Alberta was producing nearly 4% of its electricity from wind. With a grid three-times the size of ours, this was about 6 times the wind power capacity of Saskatchewan. Perhaps you’ve driven through the huge Pincher Creek Wind project. Alberta is now also looking at solar power.

Meanwhile, it took until 2015 for Sask Power to even admit the global trend and commit to 50% renewables by 2030. Thankfully Sask Power finally accepts that 20% of our electricity can come from wind. Unfortunately there is still no commitment to solar, which will most certainly surpass wind as a renewable energy sector.

RESOURCE ECONOMY

In addition, the Sask Party has made us more not less dependent on carbon-intensive fossil fuel. Even its costly carbon capture and storage (CCS) project at Coronach is being used to extract more oil to pollute the atmosphere. Saskatchewan is one of the last Canadian jurisdictions to try to salvage coal plants. Had the $1.5 billion of our money spent on CCS gone directly into renewables we would also be able to start shutting down coal plants!

Meanwhile the new Alberta NDP government has introduced a plan to wean the province from its coal plants, though it doesn’t yet have an acceptable plan to reduce GHG emissions from the tar-sands.

Becoming the highest per capita GHG emitter and the last to embrace renewable energy are, of course, directly related. And all the Sask Party hype about us being a resource-rich “have province” just obscures how far behind we are. With the new federal Liberal government now tackling climate change, and willing to spend infrastructure money to shift our energy and economy to being more sustainable, Saskatchewan is even more out of the loop.

ENERGY SECTOR

Our economy remains as vulnerable as Alberta to the volatility of non-renewable resources. By 2011 25% of our GDP came from the energy sector, just behind Alberta at 28%. Only Newfoundland was higher. If anything the Wall government has increased this dependence.

We’ve seeing what this did to Alberta, with its fixation on the tar sands. Now facing the bust-side of its boom-bust commodity-based economy, there are not only higher levels of unemployment but of suicide. Alberta already has 63,000 people on EI and suicides went up by 30% in the wake of the oil-price crash.

The indicators are not good here. Housing and retail trade is already way down. While oil drilling went down by 50%, unemployment went up 33%, to a record high of 30,400 people in 2015 according to Sask Trends. Thirty-five hundred people lost jobs in manufacturing which is tied to resource exports here. Stats Canada reports that by the end of 2015 Saskatchewan already had 15,000 people on EI, the highest overall percentage increase across Canada.

THE SPRING ELECTION

With a spring election coming Saskatchewan needs an honest, evidence-based discussion about the needed shift in our energy system and economy. Back in 2009 the NDP actually called for an expansion of wind to produce 20% of our electricity. The fact that Sask Power has finally adopted such a policy further questions Wall’s pre-election rhetoric that since the Sask Party replaced the NDP we’ve been steadily moving forward. We haven’t!

But can the NDP opposition get its head around the hard evidence about the counter-productive trends under Wall’s premiership? Can they make a break from their own past myopia and, like their sister party in Alberta start to squarely face the facts about energy, economy and the environment?

Saskatchewan desperately needs this public airing. Are the two mainstream political parties going to step up to their responsibility?

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