Only 3 out of 186 countries filed emissions-reductions plans by the February deadline. So, what actions might REALLY do something, an Ottawa energy economist asks
Photo: Financial Post
March 3, 2020
Ottawa-based energy economist Robert Lyman published an opinion in today’s Financial Post outlining the apparent futility of the Paris Accord, and the upcoming climate action meeting in November.
From this vantage point, the 2030 targets seem likely to meet the same fate as the previous global targets set for 2000, 2010, and 2020 — that is, they will be missed by a wide margin, and succeeded by ever more stringent and unattainable targets for the future.
Canadians remain remarkably ill-informed about the trends in international emissions and the very small role Canada plays. Almost all political parties declare absolute allegiance to emissions-reduction targets that cannot be met and would have virtually no impact on the trends in global emissions if they were. So, what is to be done?
If one is convinced by the arguments that human emissions pose unacceptable risks in terms of future climate effects, then the wise course would be to devote most of our climate-related expenditures, not to emissions reduction, but to actions that will improve Canada’s ability to adapt to the climate changes that occur and to carefully monitoring these changes over time.
If, however, the science and modelling that underpin current projections of climate emergency seem of doubtful credibility, Canadians should adopt a different insurance policy against future harm: focusing on emissions reductions that offer economic and environmental benefits beyond GHG emissions; investing heavily in research and development on new energy technologies; protecting Canadian industry and jobs from the harmful competitive effects of higher energy costs; and assessing proposals for new energy infrastructure according to a broad range of public policy considerations, not just those related to emissions reduction. Climate realism will serve us better than climate alarm.
It’s a high-stakes legal battle over London-area wind farms that pits a self-proclaimed, Canada-loving, Texas oil tycoon against the federal government.
Mesa Power Group LLC vs. Government of Canada, a case that could leave taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, is expected to be ruled on within weeks, four years after the claim was launched by T. Boone Pickens under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Though the federal government is the defendant, Pickens’ real quarrel is with Ontario.
In submissions and testimony before the NAFTA panel hearing the arbitration case, Pickens’ company claims it failed to win contracts for four massive wind farms in Huron and Bruce counties in Southwestern Ontario because of political interference at the highest level.
“This whole process was not carried out in good faith. This was not honesty. This was not fairness. This process was infused with raw politics, arbitrariness, and an egregious abuse of authority,” Mesa lawyer Barry Appleton said in his closing submission to the panel’s three arbitrators at a hearing in Toronto in October 2014.
The claim contains allegations that have not been proven.
In his own testimony before the NAFTA arbitrators, Pickens described how he was a big fan of Canada because of its rule of law.
“My experiences were so good that I enjoyed telling people about it,” he said, relating how he came to Canada with less than $100,000 in 1959 and sold out 20 years later for $610 million.
But his experience in Ontario left him disappointed, he said.
“You always feel bad when you lose, and then you look to see why you lost, and here we lost because we didn’t have a level playing field,” Pickens testified.
Home to Ontario’s largest wind farms with its largest number of the highrise-sized turbines, Southwestern Ontario is no stranger to the controversies generated by the power-producing windmills. Critics have decried them as a threat to human health, divisive to rural communities and a financial blow to a province that signed up producers with early sweetheart deals paying them far more to generate power than consumers pay.
Details of this latest dust-up are found on a federal government website containing submissions by Mesa, the governments of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, and transcripts of the claim heard before a NAFTA tribunal last fall.
Mesa argued that other wind farm companies, Florida-based NextEra Energy and Korean-based Samsung — both, industry giants — were given illegal, preferential treatment and inside information that doomed Mesa’s projects.
“It was a cesspool. It was shameful. I feel very badly after seeing what went on here for my fellow Ontarians and the ratepayers of Ontario. They are having to bear the burden of the shameful behaviour,” Appleton said in a transcript from the hearing.
Responding to Mesa’s arguments, also at the hearing, Canada’s lawyers rejected Mesa’s assertions and said the company’s failures were self-inflicted.
“This is a case which is, as the expression goes, about sour grapes. It is a case about an investor who took a business risk and is unwilling to accept that that risk did not pay off,” government of Canada lawyer Shane Spelliscy said.
Spelliscy said Mesa’s applications for contracts with the Ontario Power Corp. were “sloppy” and “poorly done.”
When contracts were handed out, Mesa didn’t get one because its proposals weren’t highly ranked in a process monitored by an independent third party, Spelliscy said.
If they had put together better applications, they may have been successful, the federal lawyer said.
“There was no discrimination,” he said.
According to Mesa’s submissions, it decided to develop wind farms in Ontario — one, a 200-megawatt proposal in Bruce County would have been the largest in Ontario — after learning the province was offering 20-year contracts at a fixed price of 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.
“Make no doubt about this, this was a highly attractive rate,” said Appleton.
The rate meant there was no shortage of competing applications. A critical factor for companies became whether there would be enough transmission capacity for wind energy in the areas where they’d selected to build.
Appleton said Mesa had no idea that Ontario had cut a separate deal to allocate transmission capacity to Samsung, a Korean industrial giant, which promised to build manufacturing plants in Ontario.
And Mesa, unlike some of its competitors, was never informed about rule changes, a chance to switch its transmission points in order to increase its chances, he said.
Part of Mesa’s case was based on e-mails from Bob Lopinski, a registered lobbyist for NextEra, to Energy Ministry officials during the allocation process.
Lopinksi, a principal at Counsel Public Affairs, had previously served as director of issues management and legislative affairs to then-premier Dalton McGuinty and advised the Liberal leader on selecting cabinet ministers.
Appleton said though Lopinski and NextEra executives were communicating with Ontario government and Hydro One officials, Mesa understood no such communication was allowed.
Canada’s response filed with the NAFTA panel was there isn’t any evidence NextEra was ever provided with non-public information.
Mesa has asked for damages of $653 million plus interest.
Industry association “lead proponent” in Natural Resources Canada study
Last week, in researching his series on the Canadian Wind Energy Association’s campaign to influence Ontario citizen attitudes toward wind power, and recommendations for the lobby group’s “Ontario campaign,” Parker Gallant discovered via the Ontario Lobbyist Registry that CanWEA disclosed publicly it has received funding of $663,000 from the federal government.
The funding is presumably for CanWEA’s role as lead proponent of a $1.7-million Natural Resources Canada project called the Pan-Canadian Wind Integration Study, “that will evaluate how large penetration of wind energy could be integrated on the provincially run Canadian electric grid and show the challenges and opportunities in doing so. “
In the first paragraph of the NRCan page on this study, which names CanWEA as the lead proponent, is a significant error. CanWEA’s mandate is most decidedly NOT “to promote the responsible and sustainable growth of wind energy in Canada.” CanWEA itself says its mission is “to ensure Canada fully realizes its abundant wind energy potential on behalf of its members.”
In other words, as any specialized industry group does, CanWEA’s goal is to represent and promote the interests of its members.
It is not an environmental organization.
Why, we ask, is an industry group, with some very well-financed members, that states outright its goal is to act in the best interests of its members, receiving government financing to further its members’ fortunes?