The Green plan for our electricity future

The Green plan for our electricity future: a backgrounder

The following is a follow-up to Green Party leader Victor Lau’s press release on energy policy on Monday October 31st, and a further explanation of some of the items included in that document.

According to Deputy Leader Dr Mark Bigland-Pritchard, The Green Party is the only party in this election with a thought-through commitment to an energy future in which our children and grandchildren can thrive. A Green government would rapidly implement measures to massively improve the efficiency of energy use, and to shift from climate-imperilling fossil fuels to clean safe renewable sources.

Many of the pieces of a longterm sustainable energy plan depend first on cleaning up our electricity supply. At present, SaskPower is heavily dependent on dirty coal. In addition to their emissions of mercury and other heavy metals, our coal-fired power stations are also a major source of carbon dioxide, the principal gas driving climate change.

Efficiency: the neglected low-cost way forward

It is well-established fact that it is cheaper to save electricity through greater efficiency than it is to generate it. A Green government would therefore instruct SaskPower to introduce, as the central feature of its forward planning, an efficiency programme similar to those which are proving extremely successful in California, Vermont, Massachusetts and many European countries. As a result of the Californian programme, the state’s electricity consumption per person has remained steady for nearly 40 years while real incomes have nearly doubled.


Cut out the waste: efficiency in offices and homes should reduce power requirements

Last year, SaskPower projected a 12% increase in domestic and commercial consumption over ten years. A concerted demand side management programme – i.e. policies to enable and drive a radical shift to more energy-efficient equipment and methods – could easily turn this increase into a decrease.

Cut out the waste: our industrial base needs to become more energy-efficient, but it also needs to become more diversified

However, SaskPower also projected a 73% increase in heavy industrial electricity consumption over the same period. This is based on the assumption that energy-intensive extractive industries will continue to expand with minimal regulation or control. This level of increase of demand is unsustainable.

Therefore, Green Party MLAs will work for:

  • a fair price for industrial electricity - in contrast to the present situation, in which new industry requires new power plants to be built, generating power at 11 or 12 cents/kilowatt-hour, but typically pays only about 7 or 8 cents/kilowatt-hour for it.
  • a feebate scheme in each industrial sector – efficient operators will be rewarded at the expense of inefficient ones.
  • use of government influence to negotiate a low-interest loan scheme for efficiency improvements.
  • strict minimum standards for energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions for all new developments, to be required as part of the environmental assessment process.
  • policies designed to diversify the province’s economy away from the present over-dependence on extractive industries, towards options with a long-term future – efficient manufacturing, ethical IT and especially greentech. In so doing, many local businesses and many thousands of local jobs would be created throughout the province. The current success and stability of the German, Danish and Swedish economies owes much to the development of renewable energy industries – one of the few sectors showing consistent international growth during the world recession – in those countries.

By these means, a Green Party government would stabilize total power demand at about 20% above present levels by 2020 (about 25000 gigawatt-hours per year, compared to the present 21000), and then gradually reduce it.

20% more from renewables by 2020, as a step towards 100% by 2030

New power stations will, however, be needed - partly to replace the existing ageing stock, partly to accommodate growth in industrial demand before stabilization is achieved, and partly to accelerate the end of our dependence upon dirty coal. Under the Green plan, all new power stations will be driven by renewables.

By 2020, 20% of our electricity will be new clean renewable power, from the wind, from the sun, and from forestry residue, adding to the approximately 25% already coming from hydro and wind. This can be achieved by rolling out 120MW per year of wind power, plus 300 to 350MW overall of new sustainable biomass, small-scale hydro and solar generation. This rate of growth has already been shown to be achievable in several European countries.

As the renewables industries grow, so too will the rate at which they can deploy new plant. The Green Party has therefore set an entirely realistic target of 100% electricity from renewables by2030. Other areas of energy use (heating, transport) will take a little longer: hence a 2050 target for 100% of all energy from renewables.

The main mechanism for renewables growth: the feed-in tariff

Bigland-Pritchard points out that none of this policy is untested: there are successful precedents for every element of it in other jurisdictions. A case in point is the method by which a Green government would drive the growth of renewables. Feed-in Tariffs are a highly successful policy innovation internationally, which was perfected in German legislation in 2000. Community-based generators – and, in some cases, individual householders – will be given priority access to the electricity grid and paid a fixed rate per kilowatt-hour by SaskPower. The rate should reflect the actual cost of generation, plus a small amount of profit for the generator. With the costs of several technologies projected to fall, it will be necessary to revise that rate annually for new projects. Starting tariffs are likely to be in the range of 10 to 13 cents/kilowatt-hour for full-scale wind turbines, and 30 to 35 cents/kilowatt-hour for solar photovoltaics, but the latter is likely to have dropped below 12 cents/kilowatt-hour by 2020.

Feed-in tariffs have been markedly successful in efficiently driving the growth of the renewables sector in Europe – and, during the last two years, in Ontario.

How does this compare to the other parties?

The NDP says it will source 50% of our electricity from renewables by 2025. This sounds superficially similar to Green policy, but there are key differences: the NDP makes no commitment to demand-side management beyond 2017 (why not?), and they have no plan to diversify the economy towards more sustainable, lower-consumption sources of income generation. The result is that, under the NDP plan, there would still be just as much power generated from fossil fuels as is the case at present – renewables would just mop up the unnecessary increases in consumption. The NDP talk greenhouse gas targets, but they present no realistic plan for achieving them.

The Saskatchewan Party, meanwhile, does not even address the vital issue of our addiction to climate-imperilling fuels. They – and their friends in right-wing think tanks – have attacked the NDP’s modest plan as unrealistic, but in doing so merely demonstrate their own ignorance (well-sited wind power is now no more expensive than coal or gas, and all the new renewables create more jobs than the old fossil and nuclear options). Meanwhile they promote much more expensive means of generating power – nuclear, and coal with carbon capture and storage. With the 1.2 billion dollars committed to the Boundary Dam 3 coal/CCS plant currently under construction, twice the amount of power could be generated by windfarms, and with no ongoing fuel costs to add to the bill. The most recent detailed quote for the cost of nuclear power stations in Canada (made by AECL to Ontario in 2009) would work out at about 20 cents per kilowatt-hour, plus transmission, distribution and administration costs. In the light of this reality, the Sask Party’s claim to stand for fiscal responsibility looks ridiculous.

Mark Bigland-Pritchard says: Both the Sask Party and the NDP are living in the past. The future can be much brighter than either of them is prepared to contemplate, but only if we have the courage to change course towards sustainability.

As Dr. Bigland-Pritchard puts it, Continuing to drive climate change is stealing from our children. We need to stop stealing from them and start providing for their future. And the only party running in this election with a credible plan for a sustainable energy future is the Green Party. It is a plan which not only does the right thing for future generations but also provides opportunities for both rural and urban communities to build new enterprise and jobs.

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