As I write this, the government is directing emergency support where it is most urgently needed – to our healthcare system and Canadians affected by COVID-19. Nearly a million people have applied for assistance. We are in the thick of it, but once the greatest danger of this crisis has passed, the economy will need a serious boost.
Whatever that stimulus looks like, it will need to accomplish two things: get Canadians back to work and address the climate crisis with strategic infrastructure investments. The smart approach would involve investing in infrastructure that leverages existing competitive advantages and builds on and secures that edge. Three moves would accomplish that.
First, in a carbon-constrained global economy, jurisdictions that produce goods and services with low embedded greenhouse gas emissions will have an edge over those that don’t. For a glimpse of things to come, think of Apple’s recent first purchase of aluminum from Quebec. Federal leadership, and collaboration with the provinces and territories, should be focused on cleaning our electricity supply first and foremost.
Provinces with significant hydroelectricity surpluses share borders with others still reliant on coal and diesel that are looking for cleaner alternatives. Ottawa can facilitate the simple solution of stringing new “extension cords” from clean and renewable energy supply to demand (i.e. new transmission lines), as it recently did between Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Ottawa could also help waterpower generators looking to optimize the performance and longevity of their facilities. By refurbishing and redeveloping existing generation facilities, some producers could increase annual output by a quarter or more. These investments represent a win-win: they typically yield a lower cost of electricity than investments in any other supply options do, and they increase clean and renewable electricity supply with a negligible additional environmental footprint.
Finally, like any savvy investor, Ottawa should be planning for the future. The falling costs of harnessing wind and solar energy means our electricity supply will be increasingly variable and weather-dependent. At the same time, Canada will need to significantly increase flexible and dependable generation and energy storage to balance supply and demand during periods of planned and unplanned wind and solar energy surpluses and deficits. Waterpower does this well. Augmenting our existing fleet with more energy-storage approaches, such as “pumped storage” and “green hydrogen,” will also be needed. Proposals for both are already being developed across Canada. For instance, five of the most promising pumped hydro projects could add up to 2,400 megawatts of installed generation capacity with an estimated capital cost of $6 billion.
Canada needs more investment in green infrastructure. It's only common sense to focus on both our green and our blue (waterpower) economy. Six out of 10 Canadian homes and businesses are currently powered by clean and renewable hydroelectricity. Leveraging and building on our existing competitive waterpower advantages would add billions of dollars of investment and tens of thousands of new jobs each year, to a sector that already contributes more than $30 billion to the Canadian economy and supports a labour force 130,000 strong.
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin is the president & CEO of WaterPower Canada, the national trade association for hydroelectricity producers and their goods-and-services providers.