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All hail the pipeline?

As premiers meet, what does Canadian Energy Strategy mean for Atlantic Canada?

by Miles Howe

If a Canadian Energy Strategy is little more than a united front for tar sands development, where does that leave Atlantic Canada? [Photo: Kristen Chisholm]]
If a Canadian Energy Strategy is little more than a united front for tar sands development, where does that leave Atlantic Canada? [Photo: Kristen Chisholm]]

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) -- When we speak of a national energy policy - the hot topic at the ongoing Premiers meeting in St. John's, Newfoundland - the conversation appears to head in one of two directions. Provided that we agree that such a 'Canadian Energy Strategy' is needed in order to forge and streamline our national vision as it relates to Canada's energy production, the first direction is provided to us by the hangers-on and co-dependents of the fossil fuel industry.

As typified by the pouty display of Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, we should all just stop questioning, dilly-dallying around, or doubting the epic importance of tar sands expansion to Canada's future. This blind obedience to the western drive to expand tar sands production, cries Wall and his cohorts, includes the removal of any and all physical, legal and/or moral blockades to the pipeline infrastructure needed to ship bitumen abroad. Any hesitation, or offering of alternatives to this agenda, is nothing but ungraciousness to the tar sands, equalization payments, and the quality of life that that environmental catastrophe has theoretically bestowed upon us.

Sections in drafts of the Energy Strategy tell us we must build more pipelines, hurry up while we do it, and actively seek out new markets for export. That Wall's tantrum is perhaps tied to the downturn in global fossil fuel prices – and the subsequent slow-down of his province's extractive-dependent economy – is open to interpretation.

This is the first direction our Canadian Energy Strategy is offered. If we subscribe to it, we lock ourselves into a heavy investment into an infrastructure of pipelines, 'oil farms' and shipping terminals, all of which have a minimum 40-60 year lifespan. That infrastructure comes with a huge price tag, and returns will obviously be expected. The effects, impacts and responsibility for climate change will be kicked forward another generation. A commitment to tar sands expansion, on a coordinated national scale, makes investment into renewable energy that much less of a priority.

The second direction our Canadian Energy Strategy might head sees investment into fossil fuel infrastructure as a “distraction”, according to Catherine Abreu, Energy Coordinator at Halifax, Nova Scotia's, 'Ecology Action Centre'.

“Investing into fossil fuel infrastructure is committing ourselves to a future of pollution,” says Abreu. “The provinces need to be working together in order to improve transmission infrastructure, towards bettering the flow of renewable sources of energy. A key part of transitioning off of fossil fuels is modernizing the grid.”

In Atlantic Canada, we have seen issues of grid modernization hinder our drive towards a fossil fuel-free energy portfolio. A modernized grid, with acces to an increasing portfolio of renewable energy sources, would go far towards silencing the detractors who cry that renewables are not dependable at their source.

But we too have also seen spheres of influence, which inevitably start and stop at geographically arbitrary provincial boundaries, provide roadblocks to access and delivery of renewables.

Corporate influence – and in some cases outright control – into the realm of power production and delivery has also stymied our transition efforts. So while Hydro Quebec might have an abundance of cheap, mega-dam derived, hydro power (certainly not 'renewable' in the purest sense), it and Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick will not align their respective grids to supply the region. And so nuclear power plants are built, and coal and diesel are burned and new mega-dam projects like Muskrat Falls – with all the methylmercury, land displacement and environmental racism attached – are now underway. Bottom lines, corporate bonuses and profit margins, as in the case of Nova Scotia's privately-owned Nova Scotia Power, also keep coal burning power plants, well past their due-date, on the menu.

“Im asking what's in the Canadian Energy Strategy for Atlantic Canada,” says Abreu. “In the Atlantic, at least, we see the provinces are putting more of their resources into renewables. The drafts of the strategy read as though the best that the rest of the provinces can do is help the west get its fossil fuels to market.

“We need to consider whether we're signing onto something that undercuts the successes we've already made, and whether the goals and priorities of Atlantic Canada are being lost in this.”

You can follow Miles Howe on twitter: @MilesHowe 

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