Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Federal Conservatives “forced” to live up to Kyoto: P-Rod steals home
As I predicted back in October, P-Rod, a.k.a. Pablo Rodriguez (Liberal MP from Honoré-Mercier) got his private member’s bill passed by Parliament. It requires the Canadian government to come up with a plan, within 60 days, to implement the Kyoto Treaty.

On one hand, whoop-dee-do. The bill just says the government has to come up with a plan and then introduce regulations to implement it. It doesn’t force the government to spend any money.

On the other hand there are public relations. If the Kyoto brand gains traction on the public agenda, it could be a problem for the Conservatives, especially if there’s a court challenge when they fail to comply. And it’s safe to say there will be a court challenge.

So it all boils down to public opinion. Right now it’s difficult to say how public opinion will trend. Polls on the issue are all over the place, and though Kyoto gets loud and favourable press this may not count for much given that few people know—and fewer care—what the treaty actually means.

All of which is to say, we’re in for some interesting times. The government has until mid-August to come up with a plan. The Ontario provincial election campaign will be coming to life soon after that. P-Rod requires regulations by mid-October. Ontario’s election will have taken place a week before that.

How big will clean air, climate change, nuclear power be in the Ontario campaign? And how will that drive federal actions and decisions on Kyoto? Stay tuned.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Dalton and W: unlikely tag-team takes on auto emissions
It’s always encouraging when a political leader mentions the right technology during a major speech. Four months ago George Bush, the mainstream environment movement’s arch-nemesis, touted plug-in hybrids during his state of the union speech. A few days ago, Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, in announcing a $650 million green fund, said “GM is making their hydrogen fuel-cell cars here, but let’s make plug-in electrics here, let’s make the new [electric Chevrolet] Volt here.”

I hope the premier means what he says, and that the auto industry portion of that $650 million is enough to influence at least one major automaker to seriously pursue plug-ins. Plug-in hybrids, as I and others have said (see article), are by far the most viable way to dramatically cut auto emissions.

Will it have any influence? Automakers are more likely to respond to the tough new auto efficiency rules racing through the U.S. congress than to Ontario’s fund. But the end result is what counts. Right now it looks a bit iffy: Ford Canada sounds like it hasn’t decided whether to build hybrids in Ontario, GM is still wasting valuable time and money on the hydrogen red herring (see article). But that’s precisely why politicians like McGuinty and Bush talk about these things—give the automakers a public nudge in the right direction.

Notice McGuinty didn’t say anything about the grid electricity that will recharge his plug-ins. He’s still too intimidated by the loudmouth green lobby to say that it will be nuclear fission that generates most of this clean power. But that’s another story.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Emissions trading: PR fallout from Europe
Last November
I speculated that the low price of carbon permits in the European emission trading scheme (ETS) was a hint that European governments were not as brave about tackling climate change as their rhetoric might suggest.

The low price was the result of over-generous allocation of emission permits to power generators. The more permits on the market, the lower the price. The allocations were based on companies’, and their home countries’, estimates of emissions in upcoming trading periods. Naturally, a company and its home country would want to highball its estimate to give it more wiggle room.

None of this should be a surprise to anybody. Starry-eyed idealists might think higher operating costs for power generators will spur some giant collective effort to find a way to make wind or solar power viable. Everyone else knows it will just jack up electricity prices. In the deregulated European power markets, no company wants to be the first to bid its product out of range. Hence the pretty obvious collusion between companies, countries, and the European Commission (which approves the national permit allocation plans).

And hence the predictable result that some of the very companies whose emissions the ETS was designed to curtail continue to turn handsome profits. The price of carbon permits was not enough to make the operating costs of Drax Power, the UK’s biggest coal-based generator, higher than those of competing gas-based generators. In these favourable conditions Drax last year sold massive amounts of power, made massive profits—and emitted massive greenhouse gases (GHGs).

This is going to continue until European governments stop protecting domestic power generators. They won’t stop doing this until the truly farcical situation in Germany is resolved. The German government, the biggest supporter of Kyoto and the ETS, is phasing out nuclear power. This leaves its coal-based generators with two alternatives for cutting emissions: gasified coal or natural gas. Both types are expensive at current prices; both emit GHGs. And natural gas has security-of-supply problems. The main supplier is Russia.

I think a better model of an emission trading scheme is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in the U.S. northeast. Nuclear generators can flourish under the RGGI.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Punching through the cellophane: how to move nukes forward in North America
On Day 1, there is one water lily in the pond. On Day 2, there are two lilies. The number of water lilies in the pond doubles each day, as follows.

Day 3 = four lilies.
Day 4 = eight lilies.
Day 5 = sixteen lilies.

and so on.

If on Day 31 the pond is totally choked with water lilies, on what day was it half full?

Most people say Day 15. But that’s wrong. The pond was half full on Day 30.

The nuclear industry is half-way to breaking out of the deep freeze of the last two decades. The good news is, today is Day 30. A targeted and integrated communication effort could fill up the other half of the pond and put the industry back in black.

How? The decisive ground is Ontario. The decisive event will be the Ontario Liberal government’s approval of new nuclear build at Pickering or elsewhere. Therefore, the immediate focus must be on getting the Liberals to take that decision.

I have been beating the drum for months about the massive emission reductions that have occurred in Ontario’s power system since rehabbed nuclear reactors have returned to service. And, though Kyoto and climate change are very much in the news, nobody outside the industry has noticed. It’s time to take this message into the mainstream.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Canada’s emission reductions ignored by green lobby
Canada has achieved major greenhouse gas reductions in recent years (see article). This is due almost entirely to reductions in Ontario’s power generating sector, where emissions were 15 million tonnes lower in 2006 than in 2003.

It’s depressing that nobody knows about this. Professional environmental advocates pretend the reductions didn’t take place, for two reasons. First, they are partisan to a fault, and their partisan leanings are definitely not toward the federal Conservatives. So they don’t want to give any credit to a party they don’t like. Second, they don’t like the cause of the emission reductions: nuclear power.

Hence, they never mention Ontario’s stunning reversal. Nor, for the most part, do their media interlocutors. Instead, they trot out phony scorecards like the one today from the World Wildlife Federation, which puts Canada in second-last place among greenhouse gas emitters (right behind the U.S.).

Ontario’s 15 million tonne emission reduction—by far the biggest since Canada signed Kyoto in 1997—has gotten almost no media play. Nor has anyone talked about Stephen Harper’s support for Quebec’s 700 megawatt Rupert River hydro expansion. The latter, announced last winter in the midst of the furor over the Conservative environment plan, will see Quebec wheeling massive new amounts of hydro-generated power down into New England, where it will displace coal-fired power and, possibly, earn a premium under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

The Ontario and Quebec electricity stories were major developments on the environment file. Both have everything to do with climate change. Nobody noticed.

This reflects a general ignorance on energy and environment, especially among the professional commentators on energy and environment issues. This is just plain inexcusable. These are the same people who lambaste the prime minister over his stance on Kyoto. The same ones who insist that Canada reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but pretend Ontario hasn’t done exactly that in a huge way.

It’s time to knock these guys off the puck.