Home Energy system It’s time to shift the conversation from high gas prices to renewables, says climate campaigner

It’s time to shift the conversation from high gas prices to renewables, says climate campaigner

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A climate and social justice advocate for the Council of Canadians says new renewable energy installations are part of the solution to the climate crisis and soaring oil and gas prices.

Speaking on CBC Radio Halifax Information MorningRobin Tress disagreed with claims made by Roger McKnight, chief oil analyst at En-Pro International on Wednesday’s show.

McKnight said now is not the time to switch to renewables, but an opportunity to increase exports of Canadian crude to US processors.

Tress said the cost of new renewables and energy efficiency is less than the cost of new fossil fuel infrastructure.

8:37Push for renewable energies

With soaring oil and gas prices and the war in Ukraine causing countries to rush into fossil fuels, some say now is the time to really commit to renewable energy. We hear from Robin Tress, who works on climate and social justice campaigns for the Council of Canadians. 8:37

This discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

When you look at the costs of fossil fuels – heating oil, skyrocketing gas prices – and those who depend on them try to reduce their dependence on Russian energy, what do you see?

On the cost front, I think it’s important for people to know that even brand new wind power installations produce electricity cheaper than coal, oil, gas or electricity generation at from nuclear energy. And this has indeed been the case for several years.

So if we’re trying to talk about lowering electricity prices and deploying more electricity, we have to deal with the climate crisis with new renewable energy installations, which are actually much cheaper than the deployment of new oil and gas, such as [Roger McKnight] suggested yesterday.

Regarding the handling of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, I think we can all say that Russia has a lot of power here because it provides most of Europe’s natural gas.

Trying to solve the problem of fossil fuel addiction by adding more fossil fuels to the mix, I don’t really think that’s the answer.

Some countries, like Germany, for example, are already turning away or seeking to turn away from fossil fuels in response to Russia’s attack.

One of the things Roger McKnight was saying yesterday is that you can’t just push a button and instantly go to renewables.

It’s true that you can’t flip a switch, but trying to develop new fossil fuel infrastructure is even slower. So one idea put forward mainly by the fossil fuel companies themselves is that we should export from Canada and North America to Europe.

To do this, it could take five, 10 or 15 years. It is therefore much faster to deploy new energy efficiency measures such as heat pumps, for example, and new renewable energies. It may take a few years, but not five, 10 or 15.

I was reading a report yesterday which said that the existing electricity grid in Europe has the flexibility to handle 50 million new heat pumps today. The problem here, of course, is that we don’t have 50 million heat pumps lying around. But instead of investing in new pipelines or new LNG facilities, we could invest in making things like heat pumps that would help us reduce energy consumption immediately.

What evidence do you see that the government supports fossil fuels more than its renewable energy development strategy?

There are two things I would name here. First, I think the fossil fuel industry has been listened to by governments, both federal and provincial, across the country and around the world for years. And it’s a very problematic relationship.

I mentioned earlier that wind power is cheaper to deploy per kilowatt hour than any existing fossil fuel system. I think most people don’t know this because the influence of the fossil fuel industry on our politics is so strong.

The Council of Canadians is working hard…we are organizing in communities to put forward a positive vision for a just transition away from fossil fuels to try to break this stranglehold between the fossil fuel industry and government.

Secondly, a more concrete or very specific thing that’s happening now is that the federal Conservative Party presented a parliamentary budget, and this motion said something like, if we really want to support the Ukrainian people, we should build pipelines from west to east in Canada so that we can supply more gas to Europe.

It is horrible because this party has been willing to support the fossil fuel industry, its demands, even when they are not good for people here or in Ukraine.

Why do you think fossil fuel power is somehow the only much faster or more deliberate solution than the suggestion for renewables?

Again, I would point out the very comfortable and problematic relationship between fossil fuel companies and governments around the world. Lots of inertia for fossil fuel infrastructure and energy systems that rely on those fossil fuels and large power generation systems like coal-fired power plants, for example.

The fossil fuel industry has so much money and so much lobbying power that it is difficult for small companies or new companies that produce renewable energy to get that same lobbying power in government. So I think it all depends on what governments listen to and who they listen to.

The Council of Canadians has a big campaign for a just transition away from fossil fuels. Three years ago, before this whole current conflict started, [Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau and the federal government promised that they would pass a Just Transition Act and that it would be legislation that would guide Canada’s move away from the fossil fuel industry towards efficiency, towards renewable energy.

We are still waiting for that. We have worked very hard over the last year or so to make this happen.

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