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Energy for Everyone: A summit beyond pipelines and shale gas

TransCanada, Premier Alward and Premier Redford may like to present the Energy East pipeline as a done deal, but this is more rhetoric then fact.  Opposition is bubbling up along the route. From gas distributors in Ontario, to protests outside TransCanada Energy East open houses to Saint John. This past week, the energy east pipeline, which seeks to transport 1.1 million barrels of crude per day from Alberta to Saint John, was challenged outside the Atlantic Energy Summit.

The Council of Canadians teamed up with local groups to run a counter-summit in Saint John, New Brunswick. Energy for Everyone conveyed the message that Energy East and fracking for shale gas are extreme forms of energy, they are the past. Instead, a sustainable Atlantic energy vision is not only preferable, but possible.

A public panel last Wednesday kicked off three days of events that also included workshops, a rally, press conference, Energy East strategy session and film screenings.

The events were covered broadly in the media including an op-ed I co-authored with Catherine Abreu of the Atlantic Sustainable Energy Coalition, two print articles in the Telegraph Journal, tv and radio interviews and Roger cable coverage of the panel. This will help to reach people in what is being presented as a ‘slam dunk’ audience for this controversial project.

Maude Barlow, who spoke at the Wednesday evening panel, gave 5 reasons to oppose the Energy East pipeline: the environmental threat of a diluted bitumen pipeline spill; it is about exports, not meeting Atlantic energy needs; it will allow massive expansion in the tar sands, it would not provide long term jobs or lower the costs at gas pumps in Atlantic Canada; it would suck the political will away from making the transition to a sustainable energy vision needed in the region. Alma Brookes, a member of the Maliseet Grand Council from Saint Mary’s First Nation, shared her insights as an indigenous grandmother fighting fracking and for a better relationship with Mother Earth.

Providing information on what the possibilities are for a different energy vision was central to the events. Saint John is in bad need of jobs. We know this. TransCanada and Irving know this. Catherine Abreu who also participated in the Wednesday panel put Energy East job promises into question. The Cornell Labour Institute proved that TransCanada’s Keystone XL job promises were downright laughable.  We suspect their new promises  will pan out to be more of the same.

We know that investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy far outpace those in fossil fuels for generating jobs. According to Blue Green Canada , 1 million invested in oil and gas produces 2 jobs, compared to 15 jobs invested in renewable energy.

And there is a lot that could be done to put the Atlantic region on a better energy path. Abreu also discussed the opportunities for enhancing regional energy sharing so that solar energy produced in New Brunswick could be balanced with existing hydro power in Newfoundland and wind in PEI. We also know that public and community owned energy holds particular advantages (LINK) for the future renewable projects including emphasizing local, democratic governance, prioritizing local job creation and regional energy needs.

Certainly, New Brunswick is a unique context for organizing given the extent to which the provincial government and Saint John Mayor are in support of the pipeline, the real need for jobs and the significant influence of the Irving ‘empire.’ Yet, I returned to Ottawa confident that opposition to the pipeline is growing in New Brunswick. The workshops and strategy session provided key insights on what direction to head in challenging TransCanada in the region.

This pipeline is about ‘our risk’ in the region and ‘their reward.’ It is New Brunswickers’ clean water at risk. It is the world-famous Bay of Fundy, tourism and fishing at risk. It is commitment to their sustainable energy vision at risk. All for the reward of TransCanada’s profit, few short-term jobs and crude that will be exported. We will see municipal opposition growing over the coming months and creative actions to spread this message.

I look forward to working with the creative and dedicated people I had the pleasure of connecting with at this summit.

Energy for Everyone was sponsored by the Council of Canadians, Common Causes Saint John, CCNBAction, and Atlantic Canada Sustainable Energy Coalition.