Canadian taxpayers are putting $1.6 billion into the experiment
Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
by Stephen Leahy
Published in Nov/Dec’09 issue of Watershed Sentinel
Like a reckless gambler, the federal government’s plan to deal with our emissions of climate-altering carbon dioxide is to put most of our money on an unproven, risky and expensive long shot called “carbon capture and sequestration,” CCS for short. In a pair of October announcements, the Alberta and federal governments committed $1.6 billion to use this untested technology to reduce carbon emissions from an Alberta coal plant and a Shell Oil tar sands upgrader. Billions more are promised.
Canada puts 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. That has to stop. This generation, you and me, must determine what methods and technologies offer permanent CO2 reduction at the scale we need, and do so quickly, safely and at the lowest cost. And we must act on that knowledge as if the future of children’s lives depend it because we are shaping the world they will inherit.
We cannot rely on political and business leaders to make these decisions on their own, as will become evident.
What other ways could we reduce our CO2 emissions with $1.6 billion of public money – $200 per Canadian family of four?
Replace 3.2 million older inefficient refrigerators with high-efficiency ones, thus reducing carbon emissions by 2-3 million tonnes annually.
The two proposed Alberta carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) projects promise emission reductions of 2.1 million tonnes in total, if they work as touted. Keep in mind there are no large-scale CCS projects anywhere in the world.
With this level of investment, replacing refrigerators or windows or lights or a dozen other energy efficiency improvements can produce major emission reductions quickly, safely and guaranteed. Buildings use at least 40 per cent of all energy consumed in Canada and retrofits could reduce that energy use to 10 per cent or even less, experts have repeatedly pointed out.
What about alternative energy generation from wind, solar or geothermal? That $1.6 billion could buy and install 1000 one-mega-watt wind turbines – enough carbon-free electricity for 500,000 homes. How many solar panels does $1.6 billion buy and how much CO2 reduction?
These questions need to be part of a public discussion about the ways Canada can reduce its carbon emissions. Right now the Alberta and federal government are only talking to the fossil fuel industry, and “clean coal” CCS is what we get. “There’s been no announcements for efficiency or renewable energy programs,” says Amy Taylor, Director of Alberta Energy Solutions, at the Pembina Institute, a Calgary-based environmental organization with a focus on sustainable energy. “We need a balance in energy generation and emission reductions.
What if CCS doesn’t work?
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