“The choice between pipelines and wind turbines is a false one. We need both to reach our goal.” Prime Minister Trudeau’s comment — spoken just before last March’s First Ministers’ meeting on climate change — has echoed through ministers’ speeches and media interviews ever since. Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet are walking a fine line between the need to control greenhouse gas emissions on the one hand and the need for energy pipelines on the other.
Some people see a contradiction in this balancing act. The authors of the Leap Manifesto argue that growth in renewable energy technologies mean that there is “no longer an excuse for building new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future.”
Yet the truth is that Canadians will continue to rely on fossil fuels even as we develop alternatives. This is not an ideological position to be argued over, but a fact that must be recognized.
There’s no doubt that renewable energy is growing like gangbusters. Along with solar, wind is the fastest growing source of new electricity generation in Canada. In the United States, these two renewable energy sources accounted for almost two thirds of new generating capacity last year.
However, with one important exception — diesel power in rural and remote communities — oil accounts for a little over one per cent of Canada’s electricity supply. Instead, oil dominates transportation, with gasoline, diesel or aviation fuel providing almost all of the energy used to move people and goods around in Canada.
Wind farms and oil pipelines currently serve two very different needs. Electric cars promise to bridge the two markets, reducing emissions for part of Canada’s transportation system by getting clean low carbon electricity to charge vehicles. The higher cost and inconvenience of fully electric vehicles is holding back their widespread adaption, but it is possible that they are closing in on iPhone-like success.
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