Renewable Energy: A transition to a sustainable future
Saskatchewan is the “land of the living skies” in more ways than one, enveloping some of the most sunny and windy conditions in North America. Despite this natural abundance of energy capacity, we continue to lag behind the rest of the world in our installation of renewable energy technologies. As the Saskatchewan election approaches, now is the time to ask our candidates their plan to make Saskatchewan a leader in renewable energy.
Sufficient renewable power sources exist to meet our needs, especially when coupled with energy efficiency. The price of both solar and wind technologies has steeply declined in recent years, and simultaneously, these technologies are steadily improving. The economics of large scale wind power have become so favorable that it is now competitive with natural gas, and if a reasonable dollar figure is attached to the environmental damage caused by burning natural gas and coal, solar power is also price competitive. While solar’s greenhouse gas emissions are one tenth that of natural gas and one seventeenth that of coal, Saskatchewan attaches little economic value to this benefit.
A transition to renewable energy would benefit Saskatchewan in more ways than one. Energy security would stimulate local economies, reduce conflicts over massive energy projects, and allow the province to thrive no matter the political or economic climate of other regions. New employment opportunities and industries create incentive to keep young people in the province. Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels mitigates the risk climate change presents to ecosystems, public health, and economies at home and around the world. In the past five years Saskatchewan has faced high costs from a multitude of climate extremes, from unprecedented flooding in south-east Saskatchewan to dangerous forest fires in the north that last year forced an extraordinary evacuation of 13,000 residents.
The Saskatchewan government has lagged behind North and South Dakota, and Alberta in pursuing wind power, and has done little to encourage large scale solar installations. The recent SaskPower announcement of its intention to ensure that renewable electricity sources make up 50% of our grid capacity by 2030 is promising however. If fulfilled, this endeavor should mean that in 15 years we will receive about 40% of the electricity we consume from renewable power.
This plan however, will still leave the majority of our electricity sourced from outdated fuels and as total energy consumption increases, will likely result in no actual reduction in fossil fuel use. Most of the coal-fired electricity generation facilities in Saskatchewan are scheduled to retire by 2030, and the opportunity to transition to renewable energy production is now. We have the rationale and the resources to make a transition, and now we need the political will.
A transition to renewable energy technology must happen at the individual, community and utility scale. This will require SaskPower be committed to offering attractive incentives for individuals and communities to install renewable energy generation, while also committing to install their own utility-scale renewables. SaskPower should plan to roll out a balanced mix of wind power, solar power, biomass power, hydro imports from Manitoba, and electricity efficiency measures in order to replace the energy produced from Saskatchewan’s coal fired generation. Ideally, a Feed-In-Tariff program would be introduced in which SaskPower paid owners of renewable systems a fair price for any renewable electricity fed back into the grid. If Saskatchewan properly values the production of carbon-free electricity, it would create huge opportunities for communities to benefit financially from the green power they produce.
To drive a renewable energy agenda in Saskatchewan we need a transition to a smaller decentralized, interconnected energy grid. We need support to build a skilled labor force that is knowledgeable about renewable power, to provide capital for start-ups and to provide access to the grid. Simultaneously, we need policies and programs to encourage transformed markets to favor sustainable energy production.
It is time for our leaders to make the difficult choices that need to be made. A transition to renewable technology will not be an easy task, but it is an essential one. And the longer we delay, the more difficult a transition will be. We look forward to see how the new government will pursue this agenda in the months following the election.
This op-ed was submitted by the Saskatchewan Environmental Society as part of a non-partisan coalition of environmental groups (with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Saskatchewan, Public Pastures-Public Interest, and GreenPAC) working to ensure environment is on the agenda of the provincial election.
About the authors:
Hayley Carlson has a background in Environmental Sciences, and is nearly complete a Master’s in Public Policy. She works monitoring the impact of climate on agriculture for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and as the Coordinator for the Climate Friendly Zone Campaign at the Saskatchewan Environmental Society. She also is a participant in Climate Justice Saskatoon, Public Speaking for Progressives and the Council of Canadians.
Jenna Gall has a background in Environmental Science and works with MiEnergy, installing solar energy projects. She was a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation for COP21, is the founder of “Emerging Leaders for Solar Energy: Saskatchewan Chapter”, is a youth board member for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society and is part of the 2015-2016 NextUp Leadership Program.
Peter Prebble has a background in commerce, education and environmental management and is currently director of energy and water policy with the Saskatchewan Environmental Society. Having served 16 years in the Saskatchewan Legislature and as a member of Cabinet, he is well versed in decision-making processes. Peter also has done extensive work in alternative energy and protected spaces.