UNIVERSITIES AND OUR NEW ENERGY REALITY
In early October, the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) convened an Atlantic Leaders’ Summit in Halifax, drawing together business executives, economists, market researchers, university presidents, utility executives, and energy experts from inside the region and beyond. The focus was energy issues in North America, writ large. In a compelling presentation opening the event, Roger Gale, the CEO of GF Energy LLC, outlined a few inconvenient truths about the electricity sector in North America1.
- North America has failed to invest enough capital to adequately upgrade its electrical generation and transmission systems. Utilities have also fallen behind in making “necessary investment” in green technology.
- We live in an era of “great uncertainty” with regards to energy policy. Some jurisdictions, including Ontario, want to phase out coal-fired generation of electricity. In the U.S., however, many utilities plan to use coal as a primary fuel source in new generating stations.
- Even informed opinion is divided on the appropriate nature and magnitude of new generation facilities. Options range from massive nuclear plants to “backyard” generators.
- Despite these differences of opinion, the continent must generate more electricity from renewable sources, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the grid system.
MR. GALE'S PRESENTATION HAD A POWERFUL IMPACT ON THE 35 ATTENDEES, including former Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm, Rob Bennett, the President and CEO of Nova Scotia Power, and Stan Marshall, the President of Fortis Inc. Mr. Gale’s overall message was clear. Despite the complexities and contradictions undermining effective energy policy on the continent, two stark realities must be faced squarely: (1) Collectively, we need to find a way to generate cleaner, greener electricity; and (2) We must develop an efficient electrical grid system to transmit power to markets.
In his comments to the Atlantic Leaders’ Summit, Mr. Bennett endorsed the view that more renewable generation must be brought on stream, and both he and Mr. Marshall agreed that the region must act together to build an integrated, efficient grid. Dr. Hamm, one of the region’s most seasoned political leaders, suggested that our looming energy challenges must be communicated openly and thoroughly to the public before voters will accept the massive change that this requires. Recent events underscore the wisdom of that remark. In a general election in September, for instance, the citizens of New Brunswick rejected the government of former Premier Shawn Graham, after he had proposed selling NB Power assets to Hydro Quebec.
It is clear now that New Brunswickers were not prepared to accept the Hydro Quebec sale, despite its promise of greener power sourced from Quebec’s massive hydroelectric dams. It is equally clear that the prolonged debate over the “Hydro Quebec deal” (which eventually embroiled the entire region) raised public awareness of the underlying issues that Mr. Gale tabled at the Atlantic Leaders’ Summit: the need for a great proportion of greener power in the energy mix, and the complementary requirement to transmit electricity more efficiently. The Atlantic Leaders’ Summit, and its attendant publicity, also raised public understanding of the urgency of these matters at the October meeting.
Six weeks later, on Nov. 18, former Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams joined Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter in announcing an historic energy agreement2 that is consistent with the consensus reached at the Atlantic Leaders’ Summit. The two provinces, together with the utility companies Emera Inc. and Nalcor, propose to build a $6.2 billion project that would transmit green power from a massive hydroelectric development in Labrador to Nova Scotia by subsea cable. (Green energy, efficiently transmitted.) The details have yet to have to be finalized, but even this tentative agreement should be described as a triumph of co-operative regionalism. David Alward, the recently elected Premier of New Brunswick, subsequently met with Premier Dexter to discuss expanded transmission links inside the Maritimes, and Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz also welcomed the energy agreement, saying it could result in the delivery of affordable green power to his island province.
The AAU, representing 17 regional universities and their Presidents, strongly urges the region’s political, corporate and academic leadership to work together to make this project succeed. Our universities are anxious to play a leadership role in order to get the job done. We believe that this is Atlantic Canada’s opportunity to show leadership in the crucial areas of energy policy and project development; and to demonstrate that this region can work cooperatively in its own best interests. In doing so, our leaders can confer upon Atlantic Canada a comparative economic advantage for decades to come. (When it comes to getting energy policy right, the stakes are indeed this high.) If developed in a spirit of true co-operation and recognized common interest, appropriate new energy projects represent Atlantic Canada’s chance to seize the day. This can be our time, our moment.
Key Questions for Consideration
- What leadership role could and should the region’s universities take in promoting greater regional collaboration and cooperation in strategic areas such as energy policy and development?
- What policies could and should be put in place to spur the positive effects of university R&D in the economy, especially in relation to energy policy and developments?
- What additional collaborative steps should be taken to secure Atlantic Canada`s energy and economicfuture?
1. Mr. Gale`s presentation, Atlantic Energy Strategy and Futures, can be downloaded at http://www.atlanticuniversities.ca/AbsPage.aspx?siteid=1&lang=1&id=1208
2. Details of the Nov. 18 announcement can be viewed at the Nova Scotia government website, http://www.gov.ns.ca/news/details.asp?id=20101118001, andthe Newfoundland and Labrador government website, http://www.releases.gov.nl.ca/releases/2010/exec/1118n06.htm