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Here a commentary from Ottawa-based energy economist, Robert Lyman:

In May 2014, the Fraser Institute, based in British Columbia, published a report authored by Professor Ross McKitrick and PhD candidate Elmira Aliakbari of the University of Guelph. The report, Energy Abundance and Economic Growth, endeavoured to answer an important question in economic research: does economic growth cause an increase in energy consumption or does an increase in energy availability cause an increase in economic activity, or both?

The question has important implications for government policy. Suppose GDP (i.e., national income) growth causes increased energy consumption, but is not dependent on it. In this view, energy consumption is like a luxury good (like jewelry), the consumption of which arises from increased wealth. If policy makers wanted to, they could restrict energy consumption without impinging on future economic and employment growth. The alternative view is that energy is a limiting factor (or essential input) to growth. In that framework, if energy consumption is constrained by policy, future growth will also be constrained, raising the economic costs of such policies. If both directions of causality exist (i.e., if economic growth causes increases in energy consumption and increases in the availability, and use of energy causes economic growth), it still implies that restrictions on energy availability or increases in energy prices will have negative effects on future growth.

The main contribution of the report, in terms of economic theory, is that it shows how new statistical methods have been developed that allow for investigation of whether the relationships between economic growth and growth in energy use are simply correlated or are causal in nature. The theoretical and methodological discussion in the report is quite complex, even for a trained economist, which is probably why the report received very little public attention. The clear conclusion of the analysis, however, is that growth and energy either jointly influence each other, or that the influence is one-way from energy to GDP. Further, of all the OECD countries studied, Canada shows the most consistent evidence on this, in that studies under a variety of methods and time periods have regularly found evidence that energy is a limiting factor in Canadian economic growth.

In other words, real per-capita income in Canada is definitely constrained by policies that restrict energy availability and/or increase energy costs, and growth in energy abundance leads to growth in Canadian GDP per capita.

The report concludes with a reference to Ontario’s electricity policies.

“These considerations are important to keep in mind as policymakers consider initiatives (especially related to renewable energy mandates, biofuels requirements, and so forth) that explicitly limit energy availability. Jurisdictions such as Ontario have argued that such policies are consistent with their overall strategy to promote economic growth. In other words, they assert that forcing investment in wind and solar generation systems – while making electricity more expensive overall – will contribute to macro-economic growth. The evidence points in the opposite direction. Policies that engineer energy scarcity are likely to lead to negative effects on future GDP growth.”

One can read the entire Fraser Institute report at:

http://www.fraserinstitute.org/uploadedFiles/fraser-ca/Content/research-news/research/publications/energy-abundance-and-economic-growth.pdf

Robert Lyman

Ottawa

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