Canada’s western premiers hear call for national transmission grid

The notion of a Canadian energy strategy moved forward as a draft plan introduced by Alberta Premier Alison Redford was presented at a two-day conference focused on the crucial importance of western Canada’s energy sector.

“Where we are today with the Canadian energy strategy is very much where we were … in December,” Redford said at a news conference following the conclusion of the meeting May 29 in Edmonton, Alberta, which involved premiers from the western provinces and territories. “We know this is a concept we want to advance. We think there are principles we’re going to be able to put on the table to discuss further,” she said.

Redford has championed a national energy strategy since being elected Premier last fall. The groundwork for such a strategy was partially laid in the summer of 2011 during a meeting of the Council of the Federation, a meeting of provincial, territorial and federal environment ministers.

While the strategy is in its incipient stages, facets of the plan include uniting the country through a common grid.

“For over a decade, we’ve been calling for a pan-Canadian grid,” said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger. “We think [an east-west grid is] a good place to start. We think that being able to provide energy to the east and west of us makes sense, not only for Manitoba but for the whole country.”

A communiqué issued following the meeting also makes reference to “northern electricity transmission,” though it provided no additional detail.

Although the plan was criticized as being short on detail, Redford said it’s still early in the process.

“I don’t think it would be appropriate … for me to say, ‘We have a definitive strategy or plan that we expect everyone to be buying into’,” she said. “When we talk to leaders across the country, there’s an understanding that … a Canadian energy strategy is going to be a set of principles where we can talk about inter-provincial cooperation, [and] the ability to develop sustainable energy in a way that benefits us.”

Other officials expressed opinions that, while positive, were more reserved.

“If all that’s achieved with a Canadian energy strategy is a better understanding by all Canadians of the huge energy potential of this country, the fact that we are a global energy power and it’s something we ought to be proud of, while recognizing we need to do more in terms of sustainability … if that were to be all it achieved, it would be worthwhile,” Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan said.

In addition to expanding the country’s transmission grid, the strategy also focuses on ways to optimize Canada’s energy sources for export. That aspect of the strategy lead to discussions about the development of an LNG terminal proposed for British Columbia.

“Most of the discussion was around the importance of timely delivery of LNG plants [and] the understanding that we are competing with Australia, with Qatar, with the United States, for access to the Asian markets,” Pat Bell, B.C.’s Minister of jobs, tourism and innovation said.

“The importance of developing these facilities and developing them quickly [and] the opportunity to open the Asian marketplace for liquefied natural gas is critical to all of our provinces,” he said.

Premiers and other officials from across the country are set to meet in July, when there will be further discussions on the matter.

“We fully anticipate that, at the Council of the Federation [meeting, further development of the plan], will continue,” Redford said. “This is an evolving process.”