Categories
Energy Environment Media

A Clean-Energy Hatchet Job

Re: Quebec Ink: As Hydro-Québec expands into cleantech, entrepreneurs cry foul
https://thelogic.co/news/quebec-ink/quebec-ink-as-hydro-quebec-expands-into-cleantech-entrepreneurs-cry-foul/

This is a hatchet job, with no pretense of being objective. It reads as a screed from the far right, depending on the argument that government-owned companies shouldn’t be in a market competing against private enterprise. This common argument is used repeatedly in other sectors to undermine essential services, and in this case, it’s being used to undermine Quebec’s substantial investment in clean energy.One one point of view is presented in this article.

Now while I’m no fan of balance for the sake of balance, it does appear that there is a very legitimate second perspective here that the author hasn’t even tried to represent. I representative from Hydro Quebec would probably point out that the people of Quebec are entitled to the best return on their investment, an investment all the more notable because it came at a time when almost all private investment was pouring (still!) into hydrocarbons.

And this is exactly why we need public investment in the energy sector. Entrenched private sector interests lobbied hard, and continue to lobby, against clean energy. They show little interest in doing the research and investment necessary, preferring to rely on profits from oil and gas, no matter how harmful they are to the environment. To the extent that they do invest, they do so in order to undermine competition from clean energy.

This is why I won’t be renewing my subscription to the logic. As I have pointed out elsewhere, this publication is practicing advocacy journalism, pushing a pro-business perspective while ignoring interests and issues that represent the broader concerns of the community.The Logic

Categories
Energy Media

The Arc Reactor

There has been a great deal of fuss in the right-wing press recently about a breakthrough deal announced by the premiers of New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Ontario – Tories all – “to fight climate change by working together on small nuclear reactors.”

“The Ontario government said Premier Doug Ford will meet with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs for an announcement at a hotel near Pearson International Airport on Sunday afternoon,” said the CTV press report. The exact same report (plus a few paragraphs) was carried by Global. Nobody else carried the announcement.

Both articles took pains to note that “All three of the premiers are opponents of the federally mandated carbon tax.” The CTV article ended on that note.

This plan has been in the works for years. It has nothing to do with carbon pricing, and nothing to do with this announcement the three Tory premiers.

GEH (a General Electric and Hitachi joint venture) licensed technology to Advanced Reactor Concepts LLC (a Delaware-based company with murky financing) and the two announced back in 2017 that they were going to set up shop in Canada, pending a regulatory review of the ARC-100 by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission through its Vendor Design Review process (which it passed in October).

In 2018 New Brunswick announced an agreement to deploy at NB Power’s Point Lepreau. And a deal with LA-based AECOM, an infrastructure company, was announced last March. Insofar as the three premiers are ‘investing’ (if they are actually investing anything at all) they are investing in American nuclear reactor technology is direct competition with Canadian vendors. The CEO on the Arc Canada team came out of the Bruce generating plant. GEC sold its business assets to BWXT Canada, which was also involved in work on the Bruce generating plant.

The Telegraph-Journal, an Irving spokespaper, says that nuclear is New Brunswick’s Next Billion Dollar Industry. Irving loyalist David W. Campbell, now of New Brunswick Energy Solutions Corporation, is involved. And there are Irving fingerprints all over this. This worries me more than the fact that it’s nuclear. Irving has a terrible safety record (c.f. Lac Megantic) and dumped the Canadian reactor’s turbine to the bottom of Saint John harbour. It also has a record of voiding taxes and systematically depressing the New Brunswick’s economy even while running billion dollar industries.

As for the ARC reactor itself, its main feature isn’t that it’s small and modular, but rather, that it uses sodium as a coolant rather than water. This is what makes it essentially meltdown-proof. The small size is only important because it means that parts can be shipped using regular transportation networks. It’s main competitor is Moltex, a crowdfunded Canadian-British-based company that uses molten salt instead of sodium. It also recently announced a demonstration project in New Brunswick. Obviously, though, it’s the Americans that have the support of the Conservative premiers.

This is all stuff that CTV News should have reported, but didn’t. Readers are invited to speculate as to why.

Sources

https://www.genewsroom.com/press-releases/ge-hitachi-nuclear-energy-and-arc-nuclear-announce-steps-further-collaboration

https://www.aecom.com/ca/press-releases/arc-nuclear-canada-inc-and-aecom-will-collaborate-on-new-brunswick-small-modular-reactor-project/

https://www.arcnuclear.com/company https://www.arcnuclear.com/norman-j-d-sawyer

https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180709005830/en/ARC-Nuclear-Announces-Agreement-Work-New-Brunswick

https://www.arcnuclear.com/arc-100-reactor

https://www.arcnuclear.com/arcnews/nuclear-energy-insider-proven-technology-helped-arc-nuclear-canada-pass-initial-stage-of-cnscs-vendor-design-review

https://business.financialpost.com/pmn/press-releases-pmn/business-wire-news-releases-pmn/arc-nuclear-canada-inc-meets-a-major-milestone-cnsc-phase-1-design-review-completed

https://www.therecord.com/news-story/8565034-bwxt-canada-in-cambridge-awarded-642-million-contract-from-bruce-power/

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/lepreau-nuclear-energy-climate-change-spent-fuel-1.5063225

http://world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Moltex-Energy-raises-USD7-5-million-through-crowdf

p.s. There’s probably more to this story that I don’t know. This is basically what I found out in a couple hours research while waiting for a flight at Pearson.

Categories
Economy Energy

Alberta’s Fair Deal

I lived in Alberta for a long time – more than 20 years. I worked in the oil patch, doing seismic processing. I went to university there. I split my time between Edmonton, Calgary and the north. Alberta was very good to me.

So I want the best for Alberta. The people were open to me as a newcomer, embracing my contributions to their growing economy and thriving western culture, and I in turn worked hard to make the communities in which I lived better places.

I cut my teeth in Alberta. It was here I learned computer science, learning as I worked for a division of Texas Instruments, taking night courses at SAIT, developing my skills and building applications. I also became an ink-stained wretch in Alberta, honing my skills as a journalist working with the Gauntlet for six years.

There’s more, but you get the idea. And I preface this post this way because I want to warn Alberta against making the sort of mistake it has made in the past.

I lived in Alberta in the 1980s, and for Albertans, that date means the (Pierre) Trudeau government and the hated National Energy Policy (NEP). Spurred by successive provincial governments, Albertans saw the NEP as a raw deal, and never forgave the Liberals for trying to implement it. And, of course, when the Conservatives were elected in 1984, that was the end of the policy.

Now this is important: what the NEP attempted to do was to establish a Canadian market for Alberta oil, building a coast-to-cost network, and stabilizing the price to protect Canadians – especially eastern Canadians – from another oil price shock as was seen in the 1970s.

Albertans – rightly – saw the NEP as an attempt to define Alberta oil as a national resource and as an attempt to help all of Canada benefit from the bounty found underneath Prairie soils. What they didn’t see was what it would do when the other shoe dropped. Which it did. Which it always does.

The NEP was not only a price ceiling. It was also a price floor. It would protect Alberta if the bottom ever fell out of oil prices. But this was a hypothetical benefit. Since the 1970s, oil prices had only ever gone up. And in any case, there was the Heritage Trust Fund to protect Albertans from the impact of variable prices.

So Mulroney was elected in 1984, the NEP was killed, and you know what happened next.

Source: https://www.macrotrends.net/1369/crude-oil-price-history-chart

The bottom fell out of oil prices. A steady slide became a plunge, eventually reaching levels not seen since the 1950s. Alberta, instead of being able to rely on a steady Canadian market, fell victim to world prices. The economy plunged into recession.

Ralph Klein, Calgary’s popular mayor, governed through the worst of it, navigating the province through the severe cuts needed to survive. He also preserved what came to be known as the ‘Alberta advantage’ – a zero percent sales tax, low income tax, and generous corporate concessions, all in the name of preserving Alberta’s economy.

The effect was to gut the Heritage Trust Fund. Instead of being invested, and taking advantage of a world economy that boomed while oil prices plunged, it was spent keeping Alberta afloat during the hard times. Contrast what became of the Heritage trust fund in comparison with how Alaska and Norway managed their funds:

Source: https://albertaviews.ca/heritage-trust-fund/

So, in essence, Alberta not only discarded income security at the exact moment it would have been most useful, it used its savings to take up the slack, squandering what could have been by now a 169-billion trust fund.

So why is all of this important?

Alberta’s new premier, Jason Kenney, is about to make the same mistake. He wants to jettison the security that comes with being a part of Canada’s social safety net, and throw the province under the fiscal bus.

He wants to renegotiate Canada’s equalization payments plan, wherein the rich provinces subsidize poorer provinces. He wants Alberta to collect its own taxes, to manage its own Alberta pension plan, and to ensure municipalities and school boards do not enter directly into agreements with Ottawa. Source.

He can do this, of course. It’s similar to what Quebec has done for decades. And Quebec – partially as a result – has been a net beneficiary from national equalization programs over the years. But the question here is whether he should do it.

What Kenney should be doing right now is asking “what if oil prices don’t go up?” What if the bottom falls out of the world oil prices as a combination of alternative sources and a global demand for zero-carbon energy courses takes hold? What if the bottom falls out of Alberta’s economy and there’s no floor?

The reaction from Alberta politicians suggests that the rest of Canada should be grateful to have it as a member of confederation and ready to bend over backward to support Alberta’s needs. After all, Alberta contributed $611-billion to Confederation between 1961 and 2017. Source.

But paying money is not by itself enough to generate a feeling of gratitude. For one thing, Ontario – the province where I grew up and where I live now – paid $723 billion in the same period of time – and even more between the years 1905-1961, when Alberta was a basket case. And Ontario made these contributions without the benefit of pool of oil sitting just under the surface.

And Ontarians (like Quebeckers, and the rest of the country) pay their fair share of taxes. Conservative news coverage depicts equalization payments as some sort of hypothetical ‘cost’ to individual Alberta families, but take no account of the free ride Albertans have granted themselves as a result of the oil boom, and take no account of the benefits Albertans could have accrued had the province not thrown away the opportunities offered by Canada in the past.

If Jason Kenney decides to cut the province out of the benefits of the Canadian tax system, pension system, health and education benefits, and presumably other benefits as well, it will be difficult to find a sympathetic ear when the province really needs Canadian support to make the Alberta-first approach work.

British Columbia, when being asked to support an expanded pipeline to salt water, cannot be faulted when it recalls that Ralph Klein’s solution to provincial poverty was to provide poor people with one-way bus tickets to Vancouver. Source. Provincial governments have been happy to export Alberta’s problems and to lay the blame at Ottawa’s feet, but in fact, most of their misfortune has been the result of their own short-sightedness.

Even so, the rest of Canada will still lend a sympathetic ear. That’s why Justin Trudeau spent $3 billion of our money to buy a pipeline project for Alberta, even though he probably knew it would not gain him a single vote in the west. And it’s why the rest of Canada continues to support economic basket cases in eastern Canada, not because they are particularly well-managed, not because we think that they will One Day become successful, but because they are part of us, and that’s what Canadians do.

Before they cut too many economic ties, I would recommend that the people of Alberta look at the benefits of being Canadian. It goes beyond what we have – and world – provide by way of support, and equalization payments, and a stable and prosperous home market. We have shared both the risks and benefits of prosperity, and even though it is an approach Albertan voters have mostly eschewed through the years, it has nonetheless served them well.

Categories
Energy Taxation

The Carbon Tax

Politicians from the right are in full form these days expressing their opposition to what they call the carbon tax.

What they are attacking is more accurately what the government has been calling ‘putting a price on pollution’. And viewed from that perspective, it’s hard to deny the reasoning.

We would quite rightly object, say, if an apartment building just dumped its raw sewage on the road or onto our lawns. We would demand, and expect, that the owners of the building would pay to manage the sewage in some way.

They can call it a ‘sewage tax’ all they want, but the fact remains, sewage disposal isn’t free, and it has to be done. You can’t simply pass your sewage on to your neighbours.

It’s the same with the carbon tax, except the sewage in this case consists of climate-change gasses, including most especially carbon dioxide but also hydrocarbons such as methane.

The first objection to a carbon tax is essentially climate-change scepticism. I don’t think anyone really doubts the impact of climate change – the science has been conclusive for a decade now – but enough people are paid to sow doubt into the winds, and so expressions of scepticism persist.

The second objection is that the cost of a carbon tax is too great to bear. There are jobs at stake, or people depend on low-priced transportation, or alternatives are too expensive. All this may be true. But why is that my problem?

If you were dumping your sewage onto my lawn, I wouldn’t really care how much it would cost you to stop. My response would be something like, “Why should I have to pay to clean up your sewage?”

It’s the same for climate-change gasses. Sure, you may be making money, hiring people, and all the rest, but the cost for all this is being paid for by other people (including me). Your actions pollute the land, change the climate, and are already costing other people billions of dollars. Shouldn’t you be paying these costs?

A third objection is that people prefer incentives rather than costs. That’s just a straw man, though. People have tried incentives. That’s what the Ontario Liberal government’s plan was based on. When I purchased a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, I received an incentive to offset the extra cost I was paying to use less gas. This program was killed by the new conservative government.

Even today, the story about the government paying Loblaws (a local grocery store chain) to install energy-efficient fridges was slammed by the conservatives. “Fast says he is curious how many ordinary Canadians could just walk into the prime minister’s office and ask him to buy them a new fridge.

The answer to the question is: all of them. That’s what the federal government’s plan does. It collects money from carbon pollution and redistributes it to people in the form of a rebate. Where the province has a plan – as Ontario used to have – then the money could be directed toward energy-efficiency, like fridges. But without a plan, it’s just distributed to everybody, no strings attached.

When it’s just a cost, they say there should be incentives. When there are incentives, they say there should be no payments. There’s no right way to make the polluters pay, and that, of course, is the point.

In the end, the opposition to a carbon tax boils down to a campaign by polluters to be able to keep on polluting for free, to keep on passing their costs on to the rest of us, and  to keep on recklessly endangering the community as a whole.

Indeed, the carbon tax should be viewed for exactly what it is – a compromise. Knowing the damage climate-change gasses are causing, the rational and common-sense response should be to make them illegal. Pull the plug on them. Force the polluters to stop fouling our community and our planet.

The carbon tax is a market-based approach to solve the problem. Instead of making pollution illegal, it makes it expensive. This creates an incentive for polluters to change their ways, and allows society adjust gradually to the change. Given the stakes, it’s a pretty generous compromise. Maybe too generous.

If you don’t want people pouring sewage on your lawn, if you don’t want people dumping carbon into the air, the answer is the same. You either force them to stop, or make them pay for the cleanup. What you don’t do is let them keep dumping their problem onto you.