The road to cutting gas emissions (Just think of it as Kyoto times three)
The road to cutting gas emissions (Just think of it as Kyoto times three);
Some free advice for Premier Gordon Campbell as he prepares to unveil details on his government’s pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions in B.C. by 33 per cent by 2020
Mon 24 Sep 2007
Byline: Patrick Moore
Source: Special to the Sun
Premier Gordon Campbell has never been one to shy away from a challenge.
As he prepares to unveil this month the details on his government’s February pledge to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 33 per cent by 2020, there should be no doubt he faces one of his most challenging tasks.
Think of it as Kyoto times three.
Victoria has already signalled that British Columbians should expect tougher emissions rules for new cars, a new low-carbon fuel standard, and a requirement that any new coal-fired power plants run cleaner and sequester all of their CO2.
Further, the premier has outlined that the oil and gas industry will be required to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions back to 2000 levels by 2016.
You’re not convinced a 33-per-cent reduction in CO2 emissions is difficult? Look to the federal level, where the Chretien Liberals ratified the Kyoto climate change treaty, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. Then they ignored the situation almost entirely, allowing emissions to rise more than 35 per cent above their objective (more than double the per capita rate of the United States where the Kyoto accord was never ratified), and left the mess for the current government to clean up.
As the initial stage of the premier’s plan is rolled out at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention this week, I hope to see a strong emphasis on technological change. It’s instructive to note that since 1990 U.S. emissions have increased less than half as much as Canada’s on a per capita basis. The American administration is right that changes in technology offer the best hope of making deep cuts in carbon emissions.
So the premier has to address the following areas with a view to both technological change as well as behavioral change:
– First, there is electricity generation, mostly from non-carbon hydro with the exception of the large gas plant in Port Moody.
– Second, and the largest source of CO2 emissions is transportation, mainly using petroleum products to run cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships.
– Third is infrastructure, primarily natural gas for heating and providing hot water in buildings.
– Fourth are direct industrial uses such as cement-making, mining and aluminum production.
The good news is there are technological solutions in most areas.
Electricity generation offers one of the most straightforward technical solutions to emissions reduction. Simply put, an aggressive program of building cost-effective renewable energy such as hydro, plus consideration of nuclear energy in the future, would reduce or eliminate the need for coal and gas plants.
For my money, hydroelectricity is our most important renewable energy source — even though my old Greenpeace colleagues wrongly dispute the “greenness” of hydro. I believe any credible plan around emissions reductions in B.C. absolutely must include a promise to build Site C on the Peace River, and to build it now.
Site C is downstream of two dams and there are no salmon in the watershed.
There will be minimal environmental impact compared to other options.
Let’s be clear: The most effective renewables are hydro, wind and biomass (waste wood), all of which could be expanded considerably in this province. The drawback with wind is that it is intermittent and unreliable, and therefore can’t be used for base-load power like hydro and biomass.
Solar panels have the double drawback of being both intermittent and costly — nearly 10 times that of conventional power sources.
Alberta has signalled its interest in nuclear power with its private sector proposal by Energy Alberta for a 2,200-megawatt nuclear station near the municipality of Peace River. Was Patrick McGeer right when he proposed a nuclear reactor to supply B.C.’s electricity needs in the 1960s? Quite likely.
If we are not capable of making some hard decisions we will end up importing nuclear-generated energy from Alberta.
Transportation is the most difficult area in which to achieve deep cuts because we are so dependent on internal combustion engines.
The future may see improved batteries for cars that can be charged at night using power form hydroelectric, nuclear or wind sources, thus making them virtually emissions-free. B.C. should support efforts to bring the plug-in hybrid into reality.
And while I continue to hold out some promise for commuter vehicles powered by the hydrogen fuel cell in the future, I am unconvinced the much-promoted “hydrogen highway” will do anything for CO2 emissions reductions when the hydrogen is obtained from natural gas in a process that sends CO2 into the atmosphere.
Until these hurdles are overcome, I see three key ways to reduce emissions from transportation:
– We can employ more fuel-efficient technologies such as the gas-electric hybrids and mini-commuters now offered by a number of manufacturers.
– We can increase the volume of biofuels, the most promising of which is cellulosic ethanol made from crop residues and wood waste. Building and operating these plants could be a boon to all regions where farming and forestry are practised.
– We have to stop buying 300-horsepower vehicles for urban commuting. This may require legislation, either to mandate fuel efficiency or to tax gas-guzzlers, or both. We know that more efficient use of energy is money in the pocket. Let’s get more practical about our personal vehicles.
Then there is the slightly embarrassing fact that we are importing $3 billion worth of gasoline from Alberta where the CO2 emissions from the oilsands are double what they would be per barrel if we opened our offshore to oil and gas production. Why is this OK in Newfoundland but not in B.C.?
Infrastructure, consisting of all our buildings, is responsible for nearly 15 per cent of Canada’s CO2 emissions, primarily for heating and domestic hot water.
There is a simple technological fix for this; it is called a ground-source heat pump, commonly known as geothermal energy. It taps into the stored solar heat in the ground around buildings.
Natural Resources Canada published a report in 1999 stating that heat pumps are the single most effective, readily available technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings. Yet the federal Kyoto program has never mentioned this technology.
Ground-source heat pumps take natural gas out of buildings and they are universally applicable. Could it be that the gas lobby, and the fact that governments get a huge revenue stream from gas royalties, be influencing public policy on this climate-friendly technology?
Imagine the economic activity that would be generated if we undertook a serious program of retrofitting our homes, offices and commercial buildings with geothermal technology. Yes, deep cuts in fossil fuel consumption would cause significant dislocation in some sectors.
But properly thought out, with appropriate incentives and disincentives put in place, we could meet Campbell’s objective while providing thousands of
jobs and a big boost to the renewable energy sector.
And the surplus gas could then be sold to our gas-hungry neighbours to the south at a profit.
The good news is that much of this can be accomplished by individuals making decisions about two things — their homes and their cars. Switching
from natural gas to geothermal will drastically reduce emissions in most regions of the province. And depending on what you are driving now, buying a smaller, more fuel-efficient car will cut fuel consumption by up to 50 per cent.
In the final analysis, there is no doubt that we have the technologies and strategies at hand to make deep cuts in fossil fuel consumption while simultaneously giving the B.C. economy a big boost forward.
Patrick Moore is a co-founder of Greenpeace and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver.