Statements & Speeches

Study on Current State and Future of Energy Sector; Fourth Report of Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources Committee

February 27, 2013

Honourable senators, on November 7 of last year, Senator Neufeld moved the adoption of the fourth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, titled Now or Never: Canada Must Act Urgently to Seize its Place in the New Energy World Order. In his speech, the senator offered his insight into the purpose and vision behind this report and invited honourable senators on the committee to do the same.

A member of this committee since my nomination to the Senate in 2009, I am pleased to speak about the Now or Never report, which was submitted after three years of careful study. We heard from leading energy thinkers, research groups, industry stakeholders, national regulators, federal, provincial and territorial representatives, Aboriginal leaders, environmental groups and youth delegates.

From the outset, the committee agreed the final report had to be accessible to the average Canadian reader. This decision reflected the committee’s perception of the lack of energy literacy and awareness in Canada. It is this idea of energy literacy and its many implications that I would like to discuss today.

Now or Never defines energy literacy as “understanding how energy impacts society.” This broad definition includes an understanding of complex systems such as international supply and demand as well as the more basic awareness of household consumption. Above all, an energy literate citizen recognizes that energy pervades all aspects of our lives.

If attained, a collective energy literacy has the potential to facilitate the social licence industry needs to operate. The report puts it this way:

Social license to build and operate exists when a particular project or activity has ongoing approval within a community-at-large and/or amongst relevant stakeholders.

One cannot have social licence if the people and communities affected are uninformed about the issues at stake. If social licence is not earned and maintained, concerns will grow and development will stall.

As an energy-trading nation, Canada also has an international audience to consider and must earn social licence both at home and abroad.

The relationship between energy literacy and social licence is central to the Now or Neverreport. Priority No. 1 includes a recommendation that “Canadian governments begin an ongoing dialogue at the highest political level, setting the long term energy goals and securing the social license from Canadians and the world necessary to proceed.”

In an effort to contribute to this dialogue, the committee itself adopted new mediums of communication. The committee regularly used Twitter, and the website provided an online forum for Canadians to express their views on energy issues as the study progressed.

Honourable senators, we have heard that the average Canadian has little insight into the role that energy plays in daily life; yet, as witnesses observed, it is often the consumer who absorbs a price increase or adapts to a required change in behaviour. How then do we ensure that Canadians understand their responsibilities as energy consumers?

My own home province of Quebec offers a number of good examples. Hydro-Québec provides tools to help Quebecers track and analyze their energy use. Their Dare to Compare service allows residents to see how their energy consumption compares to similar households in the region. The service also calculates the difference in dollars and kilowatt hours and offers tips on how to save energy and reduce costs.

Hydro-Québec also offers a home diagnostic test that provides a detailed, personalized evaluation of household energy use. Residents are able to see how much money they can save, whether it is through the installation of a new appliance or a change in behaviour. This tool not only builds awareness of energy consumption but also presents practical solutions and incentive for change.

Hydro-Québec actively markets both of these services, including advertisements in monthly statements and telephone calls to residents to encourage participation. With initiatives like these, Hydro-Québec is promoting energy awareness and building the foundation of an energy literate society.

When the committee began this study, we were aware of a number of powerful myths surrounding energy and the environment in Canada. These myths have the potential to misinform the public and draw attention away from important issues. The Now or Never report aims to dispel some of these myths, and there is no doubt that leaders in industry and government have an important role to play. Industry, in particular, has an obligation to provide facts to the public. If communities are engaged in the planning stages, they will be better positioned to play a positive role in future developments.

Hydro-Québec demonstrates leadership in providing facts to the public. Québec Hydropower: Energy for the Future is a website dedicated to myths and realities surrounding the hydro power industry. For example, the myth that hydro power is a significant source of greenhouse gases is countered by the reality that Hydro-Québec accounts for only 0.4 per cent of the GHG emissions from the country’s electric utilities, despite producing 33 per cent of the total electricity generated in Canada.

Another myth addressed is that hydro power projects destroy the natural ecosystem. In reality, 40 years of research has shown that a body of water, such as the Baskatong Reservoir in the Gatineau Valley, “is an aquatic ecosystem comparable to a natural lake.”

Honourable senators, citizens who are well-informed on energy matters have the capacity to facilitate social licence for development projects in their communities. We can see the effect strong social licence has on the success and speed of adoption of energy projects. For example, Hydro-Québec has developed the Electric Circuit, the first charging network for electric vehicles in Canada. Public support for this initiative has been growing since its official launch on March 30, 2012. Since then, 17 private and institutional partners have joined, including the Montreal airports, Université de Sherbrooke, and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.

By the end of 2012, the cities of Montreal, Rivière-Rouge and Joliette had all announced their intention to install public charging stations in their municipalities. The Electric Circuit now has over 90 stations in operation, with 150 more planned for development.

Public charging infrastructure is a critical step towards making electric cars a reality in Quebec, and the social licence needed to develop this infrastructure is in place. In fact, support is so strong that the Electric Circuit is expanding beyond Quebec. A new partnership has formed to develop charging infrastructure in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. This is just one example of how social licence can set important and innovative projects in motion.

In Quebec, advancements in electric technology are expanding into public transportation systems as well. Next winter, Bombardier will test their new Primove technology in Montreal. This cutting-edge technology allows buses to be “charged by underground induction stations when they stop to let passengers… on and off.” It also removes the need for overnight plug-ins and allows buses to carry lighter, smaller batteries. Tests in Montreal will ensure the buses perform in harsh winter conditions. Similar tests will occur in the German city of Mannheim, using an urban passenger route.

Undoubtedly, this collaboration between tech and energy industries was bolstered by public support for the development of clean transit technology.

Honourable senators, there is no question the energy issues we face today can be complicated, nuanced and divisive. Yet, a prosperous and sustainable energy future can be realized only within an energy-literate society.

The Now or Never report concludes with this call to action:

If Canada is to successfully meet these challenges, there is an urgent need for us to change. Change means diversifying our markets. Change means innovating. Change means consuming energy efficiently. Change means improving our environmental performance. Change means earning social license. Change starts with each of us as energy citizens.