Report on Canada’s energy future calls for modernizing electrical grid

A report on Canada’s energy future released by the Canadian Senate’s Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (ENEV) calls for modernizing and expanding electricity systems to connect regions.

That is but one of a baker’s dozen of action items intended to lead the nation to “capitalize on and convert our remarkable energy opportunities into lasting prosperity,” the report said.

The report titled “Now or Never,” released July 19, outlines “an energy vision for Canada based on a clear and responsible path for Canadian energy development and a low-emissions economy … in the new energy world order.”

Over a three-year period, committee members heard from various witnesses, including federal, provincial and territorial representatives, research institutions, and industry stakeholders. The committee also heard from Aboriginal leaders, environmental groups, and other concerned citizens.

The 74-page report that is the culmination of the effort devoted approximately 1.5 pages to the need to upgrade the country’s electrical grid.

Among the report’s few specific recommendations was a proposal to establish a Canadian Energy Information Agency modeled after the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA).

The committee called it a “key priority” for the federal government and “interested provincial and territorial partners,” indicating that provincial participation would be voluntary. As with the U.S. EIA, the Canadian agency would “collect, analyze and disseminate independent energy information to Canadians, policymakers, and various energy stakeholders.”

A total of 13 priorities were listed as steps “intended to help the country achieve long-term and affordable energy solutions, addressing the challenges and opportunities of responsible development and energy efficiency.”

Those include greater collaboration by government, industry, environmental groups, and Aboriginal leaders; modernizing the electricity, and oil and gas infrastructure; expansion of the nation’s development of natural gas; encouraging of energy efficiency, conservation, and “energy literacy”; and proactive recruitment of the next generation of energy workers.

Other priorities included optimizing performance levels of non-renewable energy sources; expansion of the country’s hydropower resources; fostering the growth of renewable energy; regulatory reform to streamline environmental reviews; guide responsible energy exploration and development in the country’s northern and arctic regions; maintain strong support for Canada’s nuclear industry; and “clearly, accurately and forcefully communicating Canada’s energy story to the world.”

According to the report, Canada enjoys the advantages of reliable, well-running electricity systems, though “considerable investment is required to maintain and extend their operation and benefit.”

Canadian Electricity Association President and CEO Pierre Guimond called for investment in the grid, saying in the report: “Another way of stating this is that the last investment decisions on building the system were made by my parents.”

Although the report acknowledged that provinces including Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec have made major investments in modernizing their transmission facilities, it said much more needs to be done.

“Upgrading of existing electricity infrastructure will ensure security and reliability, particularly as provinces move to more decentralized energy systems,” the report said.

While the report noted that the highest volume of electricity trade occurs with the United States, it also said a need for increased capacity of the country’s east-west electric grid “continues to pre-occupy some policymakers.”

“Several witnesses supported a national grid as a nation-building initiative to bolster energy security; conversely, some others argued that our geography makes such a move financially impractical,” the report said. “However, while not necessarily supporting a ‘grand’ grid, most witnesses supported the need for greater interconnections and fewer barriers to trade between provinces.”

Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who has championed a national energy strategy since first being elected Premier in 2011, lauded the report.

“This report supports a proposed Canadian energy strategy, and encourages Canada’s provincial governments, together with Ottawa, to coordinate the expansion of energy infrastructure throughout the country,” she said in a statement. “We can and should open new doors to international markets, fully transform Canada into a global energy leader, and build an integrated energy economy.”

The groundwork for a national energy strategy dates to August 2007 when the Council of the Federation, a meeting of provincial, territorial and federal environment ministers, released the report “A shared vision for energy in Canada.” The concept was further developed during the group’s meeting in the summer of 2011, and is expected to be further refined at the Council’s upcoming summer meeting July 25 through 27 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.