December 1, 2003

Green power growing fast in Canada, but governments still need to do more

"Green power" products that allow Canadians to meet their electricity needs while minimizing their impact on the environment are available in rapidly growing numbers. Despite this growth, however, Canada's green power sector is still very small compared to that of several other industrialized countries, primarily because federal and provincial governments have not yet adopted the policies that are in place to support green power elsewhere. These are two of the main conclusions of Green Power Programs in Canada - 2002, a new report from the Pembina Institute.

Dr Matthew Bramley, the Institute's director for climate change and author of the report, presented its key findings at the Canadian Green Power Conference, held in conjunction with the 15th annual conference of the Independent Power Producers' Society of Ontario (IPPSO, officially renamed the Association of Power Producers of Ontario (APPrO) at last week's event in Toronto).

"Governments have committed to make green power a major element of efforts to meet our Kyoto Protocol target for greenhouse gases and to address air pollution," said Dr Bramley. "Governments have taken significant initial steps, but now they must follow through on those bigger commitments," he added.

In particular, says the report, Canada does not currently have financial incentives for green power as strong as those in place in the U.S. and still lacks the renewable portfolio standards that have been widely implemented there.

As well, increased public awareness of and demand for green power could help accelerate this sector's development. The federal government in particular has a role to play in fostering this awareness. For example, says the report, the "One Tonne Challenge" to Canadians to reduce their annual GHG emissions could be used to promote green power.

The report provides a comprehensive survey of government policies and private sector initiatives to support and market green power (low-impact renewable electricity) that were active in Canada by the end of 2002. For each program, the report presents a brief description of the initiative, calculates its contribution to each jurisdiction's electricity production, and estimates the resulting reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants that cause smog and acid rain.

The report also reviews green power certification systems, and includes an update on new green power programs that have emerged in 2003. Of the ten green power or green power certificate marketing initiatives existing in 2002, only four were in place in 2001, illustrating the high pace of development of this market.

While the study was funded by Environment Canada, the Pembina Institute is solely responsible for its content, which is not necessarily endorsed by the department.

Among the report's findings:

* Generation capacity associated with green power programs active at the end of 2002 was dominated by wind (43%), hydro (about 36%) and biomass (about 20%) facilities. Thirty-six percent of this capacity is located in Alberta, 27% in Ontario, 19% in Quebec and 14% in British Columbia. But production of electricity by these facilities remained small as a proportion of total jurisdictional electricity production - 1.6% in Alberta, 0.9% in British Columbia, 0.5% in Ontario and 0.5% for Canada as a whole.

* Green power programs reduced Canada's greenhouse gas emissions in 2002 by an estimated 775 kilotonnes (kt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). The federal plan for implementing the Kyoto Protocol commits to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 6.9 megatonnes (Mt) by 2010. The report also estimates reductions in pollutants that cause smog and acid rain, where green power is not generated from biomass.

* Where green power capacity contains a significant biomass component (notably in Alberta and British Columbia), there may be net increases in regional emissions of air pollutants such as particulates, carbon monoxide and acid deposition and ground-level ozone precursors. The report says close attention should be paid to regional air pollutant emissions from biomass power as the Canadian green power sector develops.

* Certification systems - notably the federal EcoLogo program - are playing an important role in developing markets for genuine, low-impact green power. A key function of certification is to prevent the environmental benefits of green power - benefits customers pay for - being claimed more than once. The report suggests that the EcoLogo program is not currently clear enough on this point.

The report may be viewed on the Pembina Institute Web site, www.pembina.org.

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