Natural gas may be cheap and clean, but Quebec still holds a grudge – by Sophie Cousineau (Globe and Mail – September 25, 2013)

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Sophie Brochu was all smiles when she sat down to testify at Quebec’s roving commission on the province’s energy stakes, but in a flash, sparks started flying between the president and CEO of Gaz Métro and the commission’s co-chair Normand Mousseau.

She had been told by the commission’s staff she had 15 minutes to make her case. But he curtly retorted she had 10. Should she spill over and leave no time for questions, Mr. Mousseau implied, that would cast the province’s biggest gas distributor in a bad light. It was just a skirmish, really, and yet the incident was telling. In the land of hydroelectricity, natural gas is not cordially welcomed.

Through the public consultation now under way, the Quebec government is redrawing its energy policy with an eye to reducing its carbon footprint and to decreasing its reliance on imported oil. The Parti Québécois upped the ante on the Liberals with an ambitious promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent by 2020. To keep its word, the PQ government is championing projects that strike the imagination of voters. Electrifying the province’s transportation means is all the buzz. So is pumping oil out of Quebec soil even if both of those grand schemes will take at least a decade to materialize.

This environmental bias supersedes economic considerations, which are ignored, Ms. Brochu lamented. And it is leading to an energy planning exercise whose conclusions appear foregone. So just as there is a Charter of Quebec Values, you can also draw a Charter of Quebec Energies – with what is blessed, and what isn’t.

Natural gas is the cheapest form of energy. It also produces less greenhouse gases and less pollution than the fuel oil that heats houses and plants or the gasoline that powers trucks and cars. This explains why Transport Robert has converted close to 125 of the trucks in its fleet to natural gas. And yet natural gas advocates face an uphill battle in Quebec following controversies that left their mark.

There was the ill-fated gas powered thermal plant that Jean Charest’s Liberal government clumsily promoted in the early 2000s. Environmentalists assailed the project, arguing the plant would spout too much gas emissions, and the Liberals backed down after Quebeckers took to the streets.

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