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How Canada Could Excel at COP 21

by John Brian Shannon | November 8, 2015

Canada could contribute to the COP 21 success story with a straightforward move towards cleaner and renewable energy

Canada could contribute to a COP 21 success with a move towards renewable energy and hit a home-run in the process. File photo: COP 21 logo

Canada could contribute to a COP 21 success with a move towards renewable energy and hit a home-run in the process. File photo: COP 21 Paris logo

As a country that already sources 80% of its electricity demand from clean or renewable energy (mostly via hydro-electric power and nuclear power) it would be slam-dunk-simple to convert the remaining 20% of the country’s national electricity grid to a combination of cleaner and renewable energy over a period of 10 years.

If the promising and newly-elected government of Canada — headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and assisted by Natural Resources Minister James Carr, and Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna — followed the plan presented below, Canada could hit an easy home-run on the climate change file.

Remember, Canada already produces 80% of its electricity via clean or renewable energy. It only needs to succeed on cleaning up the remaining 20% of its power generation. Slam. Dunk. Simple.

  1. SLAM. Write legislation to ban the burning of coal within Canada by 2020.
    BAM! We win. Canada is a renewable energy superstar and the talk of COP 21.

    Canada can simply export that much more coal.
  2. DUNK. Of course, the country can’t do without that 20% of primary power generation — most of which is coal-fired. Therefore, those coal-fired power plants must convert to natural gas by 2020.
    This has been done by many utility companies in the U.S. and is a mature and thriving industry.
    And whatever coal plants are too decrepit to convert to natural gas; Decommission them as part of the national energy infrastructure spending programme and replace them with true Hybrid power plants — where solar, wind, biomass and natural gas-fired electricity generators combine their various strengths to provide the same or more electricity than the decommissioned coal power plants they replace.
  3. SIMPLE. Direct the national energy infrastructure spending towards the goal of complete Canadian energy security, creating many construction and permanent jobs here in Canada.
    We accomplish this by building the Energy East pipeline — but with a change-up to twin pipes.

FYI — Canada’s crude oil has always been mixed with Saudi #2 (sweet) or Saudi #3 (semi-sweet) or Texas #3 (semi-sweet, a.k.a. Texas Intermediate) crude oil, in order to be clean enough to pass through the oil refinery without damaging the equipment.
Canadian crude oil barely registers #4 (sour) and is so corrosive that refineries refuse to refine it unless it is first diluted with liberal amounts of Saudi or Texas crude oil.
We need a twin-pipe system; One pipe to distribute the #2 or #3 crude oil (for dilution purposes) and the other pipe to carry our #4 crude oil to the refineries.
The Energy East pipeline should traverse all of the provinces and continue west into northeastern British Columbia, terminating in Yukon.

Why? To make Canada 100% energy self-sufficient.

As part of the national energy infrastructure spending programme, we should tender the construction of one oil refinery in each Canadian province appropriately-sized to the needs of that particular province with an additional 25% capacity built-in from day one.
That additional capacity helps to defray the cost of such refineries (via surplus finished oil product exports) and further, provides additional refining capacity in later years as Canada’s energy demand increases.
Like the huge water desalination plants in the Middle East, oil refineries require monstrous amounts of electricity to power them. Which is why we need Hybrid power plant installations near such refineries as part of our national energy infrastructure programme.

In the 21st century, it’s no longer all about being oil (only) or gas (only) energy companies or raw resource exporters. It’s all about being energy companies — that is, companies that meet the energy demand of their customers with many types of energy.

Some would say more appropriate energy.

What are the benefits?

Canada would hit an easy home-run in Paris at COP 21.

Canada would be seen as an important partner at COP 21, as one of the countries helping to drive momentum towards a cleaner global energy paradigm. (After COP 21, countries are going to be treated as ‘Part of the Solution’ or ‘Part of the Problem’ depending upon their contribution or lack thereof, to combat climate change and help improve air quality in cities)

The country would easily surpass the Kyoto clean air standards that it failed to meet by opting-out of that agreement. ‘Shamefully failed to meet’ it must be said.

It would create 100% energy self-sufficiency for Canada (yes, we would still need to buy sweet Saudi or Texas crude oil to mix with our incredibly sour crude oil, but we would then export more refined oil product to other countries than we would buy) and thereby stabilize our transportation energy market in a massive way.

Thousands of construction jobs would be created to build the (twin pipe) Energy East pipeline, to build each provincial oil refinery, and to ramp-up the distribution network in Canada to deliver the domestically produced end products of our crude oil.

Canada would ‘value add’ to the energy it extracts from the ground and instead of being the historical ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ that we’ve always been, we could be energy independent while improving the domestic supply chain and the even more important value chain. Value added resource extraction. Now there’s a thought!

It’s so obvious that Canada should do this and it already has such huge support across the country, that even if gasoline were to cost 1% more at the pumps (for example) Canadians of all political stripes would flock to support it.

And the time to do it is now. If a Republican president is elected in the U.S.A. in 2016, the new president could conceivably ‘pull out all the stops’ to prevent Canada’s energy independence from occurring before it ever gets started.

If Canada is a ‘real country’ then we need to act boldly and cut the energy apron strings from Momma America. (Don’t get me wrong, I love the Americans. But Canada must do what’s best for Canada and not be found to be working for a tiny number of (1%’er) Republicans in the United States)

It is time for Canada to step up to meet the challenges of our time, as previous Canadian leaders have met the challenges of their time. And this one should be an easy slam-dunk for Canada. All it takes, is the will to act.

The question is; “Does Canada have the right Prime Minister, the right Natural Resources Minister, and the right Environment and Climate Change Minister to make this a reality?”

My own sense is that the Trudeau government is ‘bigger’ than the problems Canada faces.

We’ll know by December 12, 2015. Talk to you then…

The Geopolitics of Renewable Energy

by John Brian Shannon | January 19, 2015

What’s lacking in the world these days is a grand overriding global vision, one that large numbers of people can buy-into.

"What if we don't change at all... and something magical just happens."

The entire world bought-into Perestroika and Glasnost, culminating in the end of the Cold War and the only reason it ended, is those policies appealed to large groups of people worldwide.

The imagination of the global public was captured *and only thereby* did the Cold War end. Ergo, voters put the people into office who shared their dream of ending the Cold War.

Similarly, did South African apartheid end.

Someone created a vision to which many millions of South African and global citizens could buy-into and people voted into office those who would carry out their wishes on the matter.

So many other examples exist; ‘The New Deal (FDR), Victory in WWII (Churchill), the Moon Shot (JFK), civil rights (MLK), Playing the China card (Kissinger), the PC (Steve Jobs / Bill Gates), I could go on at length. But you get my point.

Stifling individual visionaries is non-productive. Yet it seems to be the new norm.

Not all visionaries are perfect, not all visions are inspired, but it was a visionary who created the wheel, not an incrementalist. We can all see the profundity of that vision.

He or she, may not have created the best wheel at the time, but the manifestation of that vision has moved our civilization by orders of magnitude.

Under the umbrella of a grand and popular vision, the will of millions (perhaps billions) of citizens can be galvanized toward a common cause. The Moon shot is a great example of this — but in the absence of a grand overriding vision, civilization eventually falters. Everyone on the planet can be ‘part of the solution’. Unless we bungle it, that is.

Presently, the grand overriding vision is to attack suspected terrorists and to degrade the status of ordinary Muslims in our own, and their own, countries. That’s not a vision. Nor is it wise.

And slamming Vlad Putin in the media is not visionary.

“Demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.” — Dr. Henry Kissinger

What we need now is a real vision that most everyone can buy-into. We need ‘Larger than Life’ stuff — not this B-movie script stuff.

One script that millions and perhaps billions of people could buy-into, is an accelerated change-up to renewable energy and high fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks.

For example, 50% of all electricity produced in the world by 2020 should be sourced from renewable energy. And a 95 MPGe standard for new vehicle fleets.

Let’s not fool ourselves, doing so would NOT be as difficult as the Moon shot, NOT as difficult as ending the Cold War in practically a matter of months, and NOT as difficult as ending South African apartheid within a handful of years.

Energy consumption by energy type. Image courtesy of EIA

Energy consumption by energy type. Image courtesy of EIA

Still, it would be a grand enough and difficult enough vision to capture the world’s attention and galvanize people towards a unifying and noble cause.

Reaching 50% of our energy needs with renewable energy is a vision and a goal that everyone could feel good about and thereby want to buy-into.

We can take a profound step towards this worthy goal by acting on one of the following choices:

  1. Remove the $600 billion dollars of annual fossil fuel subsidies over 10 years
  2. Dramatically ramp-up renewable energy subsidies to match fossil fuel subsidies
  3. Institute a carbon tax that reflects the actual cost to society of fossil fuel use

Any one of these plans would work.

I favour the (2) option — “Dramatically ramp-up renewable energy subsidies to match fossil fuel subsidies” — with equal subsidy amounts for renewable and non-renewable energy in every year to 2050. To be followed by complete cessation of ALL energy subsidies (renewable and non-renewable) on January 1, 2051 for a truly level energy playing field after that date.

We’d be leaving a cleaner world to our future generations and saving our economies trillions of dollars in environmental costs and healthcare costs.

And all that’s stopping us from that worthy and noble goal is a lack of vision and will.

Carbon dioxide emissions by region. Image courtesy of EIA

Global CO2 emissions by region. Image courtesy of EIA

In 20 years, wouldn’t it be great to look back and say;

‘By replacing fossil fuel use with renewable energy, billions of people are now breathing clean air, enjoying increased lifespan and quality-of-life, and we’ve saved trillions of dollars in carbon/climate mitigation costs.’

And those old enough at the time could say; ‘We built that.’

How to make lower oil prices work for the environment

How to make lower oil prices work for the environment | 01/12/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Oil prices crashing in 2014. Image courtesy of Newstalk770.com

Oil prices crash in 2014. Image courtesy of Newstalk770.com

As oil prices continue their dramatic slide, the U.S. and Europe could use a bit of progressive energy policy to put some political pressure on North Korea, Iran and Russia, while adding some momentum to the adoption of renewable energy.

All that the U.S., Canada and Europe needs to do to punish North Korea, Iran and Russia over recent political disagreements would be to ratify a unified carbon tax of (for example) $20.00 per tonne of CO2 emitted — which rate is about half of the externality cost of CO2 emissions.

A carbon tax would cost the worst polluters like coal (heavily) medium polluters like oil (somewhat) and natural gas the lowest fossil polluter (much less)

Especially over the long term this kind of taxation would depress oil demand and make other energy somewhat more attractive by comparison, thereby lowering coal and oil production and profits for Iran and Russia.

I’m certainly not proposing a level of subsidies equal to that enjoyed by the fossil fuel industry which will top $600 billion dollars globally for 2014

I’m merely proposing that the (tiny, $20/tonne) carbon tax revenue be used to fund renewable energy projects where they make economic sense, for (reactive) carbon damage mitigation and proactive energy efficiency programs.

In the grand scheme of things, the additional cost of approximately $1.00 per barrel to the price of oil via a ($20 per tonne of CO2) carbon tax is inconsequential when the per barrel price has fallen by $40.00 per barrel in the past 12 months.

Crude oil price from Dec 5 2013, through Dec 5, 2014

Crude oil price from Dec 5 2013 — Dec 5, 2014. Image courtesy of www.infomine.com

The cost of a $20 per tonne of CO2 carbon tax at the gas pump?

The price of fuel at the pumps would increase by approximately $.03 per US gallon. The accumulated carbon tax revenue stream could be used to fund ongoing zero-carbon energy solutions and energy efficiency programs.

By slightly increasing the cost of fossil fuels via carbon taxation as the per barrel cost of oil continues to fall, natural gas with it’s lower carbon footprint would surge, renewable energy adoption would increase, and the West would show real progress and concomitantly lead the world towards a cleaner environment.

To summarize:

By initiating a small $20.00/tonne carbon tax we would reap the following benefits:

  1. Lower oil revenues for Iran and Russia/increased energy costs for North Korea.
  2. Relative to oil and coal, an increased demand for (the infinitely cleaner) natural gas.
  3. Gives both non-polluting renewable energy and energy efficiency a mild subsidy boost.
  4. Cleaner air and year-on-year lowered health care costs.
  5. Lowered acid rain damage to concrete infrastructure — ‘concrete spalling’ and a lower level of agricultural crops damage.
  6. Preserve rising domestic electric vehicle and hybrid/electric vehicle sales and the related jobs.
  7. Adds plenty of energy jobs to the economy via ongoing year-on-year (carbon tax funded) renewable energy manufacturing and installations.

And I get that Russia and Iran would eventually ramp-up their natural gas production to counter the lower oil price. But it would be very inconvenient for their economy over the next 24 months.

We all breathe the same air, and reducing our high-carbon-fuel use benefits us all (natural gas, instead of oil — renewables, instead of coal) no matter where it is being burned on the planet.

When we use energy policy as a judicious diplomatic lever, that too, can be a benefit.

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