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clean electricity regulations

Clean Electricity Regulations

We are living through multiple emergencies, with fewer and fewer people able to escape the impacts of the escalating climate and affordability crises. It is time for our federal government to take a leadership role and stop dragging its feet on mechanisms and regulations to begin the just transition we require to move forward as a society.

One piece of this transition away from fossil fuels is the impending just transition legislation that the federal government has been promising since 2019. The implementation of just transition legislation is entwined with the Clean Electricity Regulations that the federal Liberals promised in 2021. A draft of these regulations is in the works right now and is slated to be released soon.

Strong clean electricity regulations have tremendous potential to ensure that our electricity grid is decarbonized by 2035, which is a significant step in Canada meeting our climate commitments. These regulations also provide an opportunity in this cost-of-living crisis for further energy affordability and energy security.

However, for these benefits to be fully felt, clean electricity regulations must not be watered down – and fossil fuel lobbyists have been very effective at pushing for extensions, exemptions and loopholes that threaten the effectiveness of these regulations.

Instead of bowing to industry interests, clean electricity regulations must benefit Indigenous communities, workers and their communities, must not allow for further fossil fuel electricity generation, and must be zero-emissions.

Strong Clean Electricity Regulations are 100% possible 

As we work to reduce and eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels, many climate solutions rely on increased electrification and specifically direct electrification.

Thankfully, Canada is starting from a strong place to decarbonize our electricity grid. At this point, 84 per cent of our electricity comes from renewable sources. Within this framework, it is important to note that there is work to be done to eliminate our reliance on existing nuclear energy generation and ensure no further nuclear energy development. We also must address our reliance on megadams and other hydro-generated electricity projects that undermine Indigenous rights and sovereignty and compromise the environment. 

The David Suzuki Foundation has done modelling that shows the feasibility of transitioning to 100 per cent zero-emissions electricity by 2035. This modelling shows that this transition is possible without new hydroelectricity or nuclear generation, and does not require immature and unproven carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies.

Canada is also not the first country to work on clean electricity regulations – the U.S. has just released its draft regulations that are quite similar to what we can expect from our own federal government. The fact that other countries are in the process of planning and regulating our energy transition makes a strong case that shifting to clean electricity is required and the right thing to do on the road to meet our climate commitments. 

Even though, there is a credible model showing that decarbonizing the sixteen per cent of Canada’s electricity that comes from fossil fuels, there are enormous political barriers to achieving that goal. That barrier is the fossil fuel industry and its cadre of lobbyists.

Oil and gas lobbyists have been very successful in introducing extensions, exemptions and loopholes in climate regulations and legislation. These exemptions and loopholes benefit the bottom line of companies, not the communities and people reliant on energy generation. 

Clean Electricity Regulations should benefit Indigenous communities and workers, not corporations 

Indigenous communities are already leading the way on these energy transitions and renewable energy projects and demonstrating the clear benefits of the renewable energy transition for communities. As of 2021, Indigenous communities own the most clean energy assets in so-called Canada, after the crown and private utility companies. These projects and communities are not only examples to follow but also a call to ensure that Indigenous rights and titles are upheld as we transition to a renewable energy future.

However, significant challenges around clean energy assets, including regulatory, political and financing barriers remain for Indigenous communities in this transition. As the communities most impacted by climate change, and leaders in the renewable energy transition, strong regulations have the potential to center Indigenous communities in the planning and development of the decarbonization of our energy grid. Check out “Decarbonizing Electricity and Decolonizing Power”, a report from the David Suzuki Foundation, for more.

The benefits of this transition for workers and other communities across the country are significant – construction, operation, and maintenance employment alone will grow to more than 75,000 jobs a year. Between 2025 – 2050, these new jobs could result in close to two million new jobs for energy workers. If properly regulated, these jobs could be good, permanent, unionized jobs and allow workers and communities to plan for the future.

Clean Electricity Regulations should not allow for further fossil fuel electricity generation

This one seems like a no-brainer – building out further fossil fuel infrastructure is in direct contradiction to decarbonizing our electricity grid. However, the Ontario and Saskatchewan governments have both announced plans to build new natural gas generation plants or retrofit existing energy plants for natural gas energy generation.

The argument being made by both provinces is that decarbonizing the electricity grid will raise prices for consumers and affect the potential reliability of power generation. However, the federal government has insisted that their proposed regulations should be able to avoid potential price spikes and fluctuating and growing energy demands that could result in blackouts. Additionally, our friends at the David Suzuki Foundation have written a great report, “Shifting Power: Zero-Emissions Electricity Across Canada by 2035” that shows that decarbonizing our electricity grid will ensure that it remains reliable and affordable.

It is true that we will not eliminate the use of fossil fuels overnight – the complexity of our energy systems and our reliance on fossil fuels is a reality that must be addressed. Addressing complexity necessitates a strong plan and strong regulations that do not compromise on the fact that we must fully decarbonize our fossil fuel system.

Strong regulations will also allow for a more predictable, stable phase-out of fossil fuel electricity. Stability and predictability in this process will further benefit workers and communities, who will be able to plan for their economic and social futures knowing what employment opportunities will result from energy generation, and where their energy will come from.

Clean Electricity Regulations need to be zero-emissions, not net-zero

If Canada is serious about meeting our climate targets, it’s critical that the Clean Electricity Regulations shift their target from net-zero emissions, to zero-emissions. Net-zero emissions mean that any carbon emissions are balanced out by removing that same amount of carbon from the atmosphere. However, it’s completely possible to avoid the necessity of balancing out this carbon ledger by focusing efforts on zero-emissions electricity.

Canada can get to zero-emissions electricity by 2035, even accounting for an increase in electrification required as transportation and other systems are electrified. This is possible by prioritizing zero-emissions energy generation like wind and solar, and other approaches like energy storage and interprovincial transmission. Not only will these approaches be more reliable if provinces work together, but they will also be more affordable. For more on each of these points, check out the David Suzuki Foundation’s report, “Shifting Power: Zero Emissions Electricity Across Canada by 2035”. 

Decarbonizing our electricity grid is 100% possible. However, we must combat the influence of fossil fuel lobbyists and ensure that extensions, exemptions and loopholes do not threaten the effectiveness of these regulations or a zero-emissions electricity grid. 

If the upcoming Clean Electricity Regulations are strong, an affordable, reliable, zero-emissions electricity grid has the potential to benefit Indigenous communities, workers, and communities across the country, and to bring Canada closer to meeting its climate commitments.  

Join us, the David Suzuki Foundation and thousands of Canadians in demanding that Clean Electricity Regulations benefit Indigenous communities, workers, and their communities, must not allow for further fossil fuel electricity generation and must have a goal of zero-emissions rather than net-zero electricity generation. 

Chris Kruszewski

Chris Kruszewski

Chris Kruszewski is a Climate and Social Justice Campaigner with the Council of Canadians.