Canada Dumps Vital Renewable Energy Incentives for “Clean” Coal

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Canada’s Conservative government released a federal budget last week that would kill off the country’s main program for developing renewables and channel most of the money from a new "Green Infrastructure Fund" into carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, or so-called clean coal.

The new fund, worth a modest $1 billion over five years, includes $150 million for research and $850 million for the development and demonstration of "promising" technologies.

Most of that sum, however, is pork money that will go into a chancy project in Saskatchewan that seeks to retrofit an existing coal plant with carbon capture technology, the Toronto Star reports. The plant will remove a small fraction of CO2 from the facility and eat up 25 percent of the energy produced by the generating unit to do it. Meaning: More coal will have to be burned to get the same wattage out.

Looks like it’s business as usual in Ottawa. This passage from Toronto Star reporter Peter Gorrie just about says it all:

The government and the oil industry like the fact that carbon capture lets them seem to be doing something leading edge about climate change while carrying on business as usual. It might never work, and the experiments will take years, but meanwhile, profits will flow, as will subsidies for the tests.

Canada isn’t alone in using clean coal as a smokescreen to slip increasingly unpopular dirty energy past the public and regulators. The US House of Representatives did it in the $819 billion stimulus package that’s now moving through Congress, adding $2.4 billion for CCS. That’s on top of the $2.2 billion that was already approved in the Bush bailout. The US Senate, meanwhile, is expected to boost America’s clean coal hand-out to $4.6 billion in its $884 billion version of the stimulus bill.

There is, however, a big difference between the actions of the US and those of Canada: Obama’s Washington is not pursuing the technology at the total exclusion of actual clean energy options like solar, wind and efficiency technologies. In fact, clean power and efficiency got some $50 billion in the House-passed stimulus measure — about a third of what Obama has said he’d allocate for clean energy over the next ten years.

Not so in Canada.

The new pro-coal budget effectively killed all support for the nation’s ecoENERGY Program for Renewable Energy (equivalent to America’s Production Tax Credit for renewables). The program was the nation’s main support mechanism for developing renewable energy. The Pembina Institute, a Canada-based sustainable energy think tank, reacts to the budget defeat:

The federal government’s failure to renew and expand this program has jeopardized at least 1,500 megawatts of "shovel read" wind energy projects across the country, while putting the brakes on billions of dollars of potential future investment.

The renewable energy industry had hoped for a five-year extension of the program in the budget, which would have spurred over $6 billion of private investment in the Canadian economy and created 8,000 jobs, according to the Institute.

No chance. And in total, the green allocations in the budget were minimal at best and included such items as home retrofits and improving the government’s reporting on key environmental indicators. You can read the full budget document here. Greenpeace Canada has a summary.

The big question is: Why put so many of the nation’s energy eggs in the wildly expensive and still unproven clean coal basket?

The answer is in the Alberta tar sands — one of the most climate-destructive projects on Earth and Canada’s top energy priority. The federal government and the oil industry have been on a PR mission to persuade the public that CCS technology can transform the unpopular though highly lucrative tar sands into a cleaner energy source. 

That whole idea is absurd on its face, and note that it’s not at all true.

As SolveClimate reported in December, a secret document from Canada’s own government revealed that only a tiny percentage of the CO2 released in mining the sands could ever be captured, if the technology is even viable. Meanwhile, the CBC reported that the oil sands remain Canada’s fastest-growing source of CO2, set to increase from five percent to 16 percent of total emissions by 2020 under current plans.

There’s a year to go until Canada’s next budget. Time to begin scraping off all the greenwash to avoid a repeat performance.

See also:

A Must-Read Book on Tar Sands for Obama Before His Trip to Canada

Clean Coal, Clean Tar: Media Not Swallowing It Anymore 

A Tale of Two Disasters: Coal Ash and Tar Sands Tailings

Alberta Tar Sands to Poison U.S. Great Lakes Region, Too