Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Unpacking the Question:A presentation by the Green Party of Saskatchewan on how to best meet the province’s energy needs

By Larissa Shasko, Leader of the Green Party Saskatchewan

Presented in Regina on October 8, 2009 to the Government of Saskatchewan Standing Committee on Crown and Central Agencies

The question we have been asked to answer in this energy inquiry is: “How should the government best meet the growing energy needs of the province, in a manner that is safe, reliable, and environmentally-sustainable, while meeting any current and expected Federal Environmental Standards and Regulations, and maintaining a focus on affordability for Saskatchewan residents today and in the future?”

To answer this question, we must begin by unpacking the question itself.

The question asks how the government should “best meet the growing energy needs of the province.” However, throughout my lifetime the population of Saskatchewan has remained stagnant hovering at just over or below one million people. So I ask this government, why are the energy needs of our province growing, especially when the problem of climate change demands that we should be reducing our energy consumption by maximizing energy conservation. This question is leading this process in the wrong direction. Perhaps it should read, “how can we best meet the growing energy needs of industry”.

The UDP Report proposed exporting 4-5000 MW of electricity to Alberta for tar sands production. At a lecture at the University of Regina Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy on June 18, 2009, Dr. Richard Florizone, Chair of the UDP stated that using nuclear power to “green up” the tar sands industry was a step towards addressing climate change. This statement is not only false, it is incredibly misleading. The reality is the opposite— Using nuclear power for tar sands production would actually be taking us closer to the “tipping point” of climate change catastrophe, and it was irresponsible of Dr. Florizone to state otherwise. The Alberta Tar Sands have recently been deemed the “most destructive project on earth” by Environmental Defence Canada[1] because the tar sands will single-handedly make it impossible for Canada to lower greenhouse gas emissions anywhere near what is needed to meet international targets. The Wall Government and Dr. Florizone continue to lead us down the wrong path, wasting taxpayers dollars and putting the people of Saskatchewan at risk to build a research reactor at the U of S.

Since the leaky old Chalk River reactor is too unsafe to operate and the failed MAPLE reactors have been abandoned due to escalating cost overruns and major safety problems, the federal government recently began accepting applications from other provinces and locations interested in producing medical isotopes for the Canadian market. While the Wall Government and the University of Saskatchewan have put in a $750 million proposal for a research reactor, the University of Winnipeg has put in a proposal to produce medical isotopes within three years using a cyclotron at a cost of $35 million.[2]

The nuclear industry implies that nuclear power is necessary if we want medical isotopes. The reality is that many currently used medical isotopes can be (and are) produced without nuclear reactors, using particle accelerators (cyclotrons). Although accelerators do create small quantities of lingering radioactivity, they do not pose the staggering high-level waste and proliferation problems associated with nuclear reactors, nor do they have any potential for catastrophic accidents of any kind, nor are they capable of producing weapons materials in militarily significant amounts.[3]

So why would Harper even consider Saskatchewan’s $750 million proposal to produce medical isotopes with a nuclear reactor when the University of Winnipeg can produce isotopes using a cyclotron for only $35 million? The UDP Report contains some answers.

The key figure at the University of Saskatchewan involved in the current proposal for a research reactor appears to be Dr Richard Florizone, Vice President of Finance at the U of S who was also the chair of the government sponsored and industry stacked Uranium Development Partnership.

As pages 81 and 109 of the UDP Report make clear, a research reactor at the U of S would not be used to research medical isotopes, but rather for other areas of research, including small reactor technology. There is interest in small reactor technology from mining companies looking to use small reactors for mining at remote locations, or in otherwords, for “nuclear powered mines”.[4] In the case of the tar sands, the main purpose of small reactors would be remote deployment – using nuclear power for tar sands extraction, reformation, and refining, which raises questions around emissions monitoring and regulation, waste transport and disposal, security risks, and preventing diversion of materials for use in nuclear weapons. Offering this technology to an industry already known for its appalling environmental record and its disregard of the rights of indigenous peoples would be a mistake, to say the least. The additional suggestion made in the UDP Report of developing small reactor technology so that small reactors could be used to provide power and heat to remote communities in place of diesel or propane generation is incredibly concerning. How could any government even think of powering remote communities, many of which have no access to emergency services, with a technology that destroys ecosystems and is proven time and time again to be unsafe? Subjecting remote communities to what the nuclear industry calls “first of a kind risk” would be a continuation of the violation of human rights of indigenous peoples. Since the research reactor at the U of S would be used to develop this technology, the Government of Saskatchewan’s proposal for this reactor should be abandoned. This technology is too expensive, too dangerous, and is not needed. There are safer alternatives.

“… in a manner that is safe, reliable, and environmentally-sustainable … and maintaining a focus on affordability for Saskatchewan residents today and in the future”

We can meet the province’s energy needs with simple, clean, and affordable power instead of using expensive and dangerous technology to produce more than we need. The Green Party of Saskatchewan opposes plans for building a nuclear reactor in Saskatchewan and for turning the North into a nuclear fuel waste dump.

The Government of Saskatchewan must develop an extensive energy conservation program and foster the creation and implementation of alternative methods of energy production. Why not a Research Centre of Excellence for Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation at the U of S to foster innovation in green energy technologies?

There are a number of policy measures to take that will help meet the energy needs of the province in a manner that is safe, reliable, and environmentally-sustainable, such as
· Developing a province wide Smart Grid to increase the efficiency of power transmission and take advantage of increased renewable energy production.
· Having SaskPower pay for all excess power production produced by private citizens or co-operatives from renewable sources. To stimulate maximum interest and renewable energy production, the rate of reimbursement should be more than the commercial rate charged by non-renewable energy sources such as coal.
· Ending subsidies to all established nonrenewable energy industries, and transferring these funds to subsidize the purchase and development of renewable energy production by both small and large-scale producers.
· Passing legislation to ensure that all new houses and housing developments are designed to take advantage of Saskatchewan's abundant passive solar potential. This includes mandatory installation of solar hot water heaters, solar air heater and hot water heat recovery systems on all new houses, and mandatory installation of digital electrical control panels (ie. a Green Switch) that readily shows individual energy consumption as well as gives the ability to easily turn off all unnecessary power, in all new houses. The Government of Saskatchewan should also develop a program to retrofit all existing houses in Saskatchewan with such devices, including full funding provided to homeowners or renters who could not otherwise afford to.

We can meet the province’s energy needs with simple, clean, and affordable power -- green power!

Nuclear Power, on the other hand, is not “safe”, not “reliable”, not “environmentally-sustainable”, and not affordable.

Nuclear power is fiscally unsound. The Green Party believes that energy choices should be economically rational. The best energy choices to respond to the climate crisis should be those that deliver the greatest reduction of GHG per dollar invested. By this criterion, nuclear energy is among the very worst options. Reactors cost billions of dollars, take more than a decade to build, operate unreliably after about the first dozen years of operation, and only produce one type of energy: electricity. Even if the industry were “green and clean” as claimed by the pro-nuclear propaganda efforts, it fails on the economics. Nevertheless, it is neither clean nor green.

Nuclear waste cannot be stored, treated, or disposed of safely and remains toxic for hundreds of thousands of years.

A large amount of radioactive tailings accumulate as a result of uranium mining. These tailings can leak into groundwater and affect the surrounding area, leading to increased cancer rates.

Depleted uranium ends up in weapons such as missiles and anti-tank bullets.

Nuclear power is NOT emissions free. Large quantities of greenhouse gases are produced in the mining and refining of uranium as well as during the long construction period of the power plant.

A reactor’s fuel rods, pipes, tanks, and valves can leak. Mechanical failure and human error can also cause leaks. As a nuclear plant ages, so does the equipment, and leaks generally increase.

It doesn’t take an accident for a nuclear power plant to release radioactivity into our air, water and soil. All it takes is the plant’s everyday routine operation, and federal regulations permit these radioactive releases.
Nuclear power is not safe and not reliable. The following is from an article titled “Reactor design puts safety of plants into question” on Page A7 of the June 29th, 2009 edition of the Globe and Mail:
“Canadian nuclear safety regulators have underestimated the seriousness of a design feature at the country’s electricity-producing reactors that would cause them to experience dangerous power pulses during a major accident. If reactors are not shut down fast enough, their ability to keep radioactivity from escaping would be put to the test, according to an internal commission document. The document says Canada’s seven nuclear stations, which all use Candu technology, have a feature known as “positive reactivity feedback” in which their atomic chain reactions automatically speed up if the water pumped into the reactors to cool them leaks, one of the worst accidents possible at a nuclear station… The discovery prompted the regulator, the Nuclear Safety Commission, to warn that it may have to order plants to run at less-than-full power indefinitely to compensate for what it deems less-safe conditions at the stations. The commission and the three utilities that operate reactors – Ontario Power generation, NB Power, and Hydro-Qu├ębec – will likely have to spend considerable resources dealing with the safety issues related to the problem and still may not be able to resolve it fully... According to the internal commission document, commission staff have always known that Candu nuclear power plants have positive reactivity, but they conceded that they miscalculated the magnitude of the condition. For instance, they said they underestimated a number used to measure it by 50 percent.”
The Wall Government has wasted $3 million dollars on the UDP Report, which was overwhelmingly rejected by the people of Saskatchewan in the recent public consultations. The UDP was not about energy options for Saskatchewan, but rather it was about propping up the uranium industry. Since $3 million was spent on a feasibility study for just nuclear, which is not safe, reliable, affordable, or environmentally-sustainable, is this government prepared to allocate the same resources on feasibility studies for each of the following energy options that do meet these requirements: wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, small hydro, and first and foremost, energy conservation?

“… while meeting any current and expected Federal Environmental Standards and Regulations”

At Dr. Florizone’s lecture at the University of Regina Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy on June 18, 2009, Dr. Florizone said that nuclear “only becomes cost competitive when you have carbon pricing.” The first problem with this statement is that we do not have carbon pricing in Saskatchewan yet. There does not appear to be much support for the carbon tax from either Premier Wall or Prime Minister Harper. Many would say proposing the carbon tax in the last federal election single-handedly lost the election for the Liberals. If nuclear only becomes cost competitive when you have carbon pricing, then nuclear is not cost competitive in Saskatchewan at this time.

Furthermore, if a carbon tax policy is enacted at either the federal or provincial level, the purpose of the carbon tax is to make polluting less attractive. Considering the toxic radioactive waste pollution of nuclear power that cannot be stored, treated, or disposed of safely, it is completely unacceptable for the carbon tax to be leveraged as incentive for expansion of the uranium industry. Governments will never be able to successfully implement solutions to climate change if large final emitters are enabled to find innovative ways out of the carbon tax while actually profiting from it. Take the incredibly expensive and unproven technology of carbon sequestration. Footnote - I object to this government’s use of the term “clean coal”; there is no such thing as clean coal and never will be, and I ask this government to correct its greenwashing language.

The University of Regina Petroleum Technology Research Centre (PTRC) researches carbon sequestration, and the PTRC is heavily funded by large international oil companies who plan to use carbon sequestration for enhanced oil recovery. In otherwords, they plan to pump the sequestered carbon into dried up oil wells to change the viscosity of the dried up oil so they can pump thirty more years of oil out of the ground. Large oil companies are investing huge amounts of money into carbon sequestration at the PTRC so that if any money is lost due to a carbon tax increasing the cost of gas, they can compensate for this loss of profits by increasing their supply of oil through enhanced oil recovery. This is another case of an unacceptable abuse of a tax on carbon, which is a tool designed to reduce pollution. The carbon tax is not intended to fuel nuclear expansion or enhanced oil recovery.

The Wall Government’s plan for climate change is incredibly flawed. The youth of this province are depending on this government to come up with real solutions, and instead, this government has put all its eggs in one basket with unproven and incredibly expensive carbon sequestration. We only get one chance to fight climate change. We must not miss this chance to go green and to go renewable.

The youth of this province want green jobs. Why are so many people forced to work in unsafe conditions in jobs that run out when the natural resources do when they could be working in green jobs that do not require them to sacrifice their personal health and safety? A community-based green energy economy can meet our energy needs while providing long-term solutions to the current economic crisis. Energy retrofitting and the installation of decentralized renewable energy, such as wind turbines and solar panels, must be done at the local level, meaning the creation of many new jobs. We need to start building a sustainable energy future.

“… in a manner that is safe, reliable, and environmentally-sustainable”

According to Ecological Economist William Rees, “there is general agreement that no development path is sustainable if it depends on the exhaustion of productive assets.”[5] Rees argues that since “human-made capital is made from natural capital and requires natural capital to function, … natural capital is prerequisite to manufactured capital.”[6] The economy is dependant upon the environment for natural capital. If natural capital is exhausted, productive assets will be also. Long-term economic sustainability can not be secured without adressing the environmental crisis and focusing on sustaining nature first.
It’s called ecological wisdom.
Ecological Wisdom is a key guiding principle of the Green Party of Saskatchewan. Ecological Wisdom means that human societies must operate with the understanding that we are part of nature, not separate from nature. We must maintain an ecological balance and live within the ecological and resource limits of our communities and our planet. We must support a sustainable society that utilizes resources in such a way that future generations will benefit and not suffer from the practices of our generation. To this end we must practice agriculture that replenishes the soil, move to an energy efficient economy and live in ways that respect the integrity of natural systems.

“…today and into the future”

Just because we won the lottery by living in Saskatchewan doesn’t mean we have to spend all of our winnings in one generation. If we continue to be heavily reliant on extraction and exportation of non-renewable resources, what will be left of our province when these resources run out? What will be left for the people who live here?

To immediately address climate change, provincial government subsidies for the development and production of non-renewable energy resources, such as oil and gas, coal, uranium, and the tar sands must be redirected to energy conservation and the development of renewable energy alternatives that fully meet the criteria of sustainability.

Unlike non-renewable sources of fuel, the cost of renewable sources can be predicted into the future, as long as the wind blows and the sun shines.

“How should the government best meet the growing energy needs of the province…”

Biofuels -- an example of energy mismanagement by the Government of Saskatchewan:

The need for better energy management from the Government of Saskatchewan can easily be seen when one looks at biofuels production in our province.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives April 2008 edition of Saskatchewan Notes, when the former Calvert administration first announced that it would be assisting with the birth of a new ethanol industry in Saskatchewan eight years ago, rural economic development was the intention: “Farmers looking for a way to diversify were spun a vision of a huge new market for wheat and barley, spectacular growth in the livestock industry, and a province dotted with thriving ethanol/feedlot operations creating jobs and revitalizing rural communities” (Boyle). Yet eight years later, government of Saskatchewan biofuels policy has failed to have the outcome it was intended to since “the price of wheat has more than doubled, the livestock industry has contracted, and corporate-owned plants located in or near cities produce more ethanol than required under the Saskatchewan gasoline-blending mandate” (Boyle).

The Government of Saskatchewan’s biofuels policy encourages a renewable and alternative source of fuel to be developed in a way that is not sustainable.

SaskBIO is a four-year, $80 million provincial program that provides repayable contributions of up to $10 million per project for the construction or expansion of transportation biofuels production facilities in Saskatchewan.[7]

The Saskatchewan Ethanol Grant Program provides fuel distributors with a grant of 15 cents per litre for every litre of ethanol produced and sold in the province.[8] Saskatchewan has had a blending mandate in place since January 15, 2007 requiring fuel distributors in Saskatchewan to blend 7.5% ethanol into their total gasoline sales.[9] At this blend rate, the province is expected to use at least 105 million litres of ethanol a year.[10] At a subsidy of 15 cents per litre, this would mean that Saskatchewan taxpayers are subsidizing biofuels production at a minimum cost of $15,750,000 per year based on 105 litres of use provincially.

Only one of the four ethanol plants in Saskatchewan (a combined ethanol plant/feedlot located in Lanigan) has remained small and rural with production of 12 million litres of ethanol a year (Boyle). Two larger corporate plants produce 25 million litres a year (Weyburn) and 130 million litres a year (near Lloydminister).[11] These three Saskatchewan ethanol plants employ a total of sixty people (Boyle).

Recently, a fourth plant began producing biofuels in Saskatchewan. Located in Belle Plaine, Terra Grains began production in May of 2008 and is the largest wheat-fed ethanol facility in North America (Hall). The new plant employs 42 people and will “consume 15 million bushels of wheat a year to produce 150 million litres of ethanol” (Hall). With the new plant in full operation, Saskatchewan will be producing 30% of Canada’s ethanol, and Saskatchewan would be producing a surplus of 202 litres of ethanol above the amount required to meet the Saskatchewan gasoline-blending mandate (Boyle). This level of production will require 900,000 tonnes of wheat or 12% of an average provincial wheat crop, yet two ethanol plants in Saskatchewan have recently been unable to obtain enough wheat and have had to import corn from the U.S. to keep their stills going (Boyle). With wheat prices at a thirty-year high in early 2008, Saskatchewan farmers are “understandably focused on their core business of growing food,” not fuel (Boyle). A Saskatchewan biofuels industry has emerged, but not as it was supposed to. Under current Government of Saskatchewan policy, reviving rural economies through production of biofuels has failed.

In fact, interest in rural development of biofuels production appears to be inadequate or financially out of reach for potential investors. An announcement in February of 2008 of major changes to the SaskBIO program reduced eligibility requirements by lowering initial investments from 50% to 20% and expanding the area that an investor must live within from a 100 km radius of the project to anyone living in Saskatchewan.[12] These changes are clearly aimed at increasing interest from investors, but where does sustainability fit into the Government of Saskatchewan biofuels policy?

The Government of Saskatchewan justifies subsidies for biofuels by claiming that ethanol is clean, renewable and good for the economy.[13] To claim that biofuels are clean fails to factor in the greenhouse gas emissions generated and the petroleum based agricultural chemicals that are used to grow the grain. Although ethanol is renewable, it is far more sustainable when made from agricultural co-products (cellulosic ethanol) rather than growing grain to turn directly into ethanol.

This is especially true with regard to global food shortages. A critical analysis of the federal government’s ethanol policies by the C.D. Howe Institute published in July 2008 concluded that “Canadian households could expect to pay an additional $400-million a year for their food based on "misguided" federal and provincial policies aimed at boosting ethanol production, including incentives aimed at building ethanol plants”(Vieira).

Bio-ethanol can be made from agricultural crops (such as corn, wheat and other cereals, sugar and cane beets, potatoes, tapioca, etc.), or from oilseeds (such as soy, canola, and palm seeds) (Lens et al, 38). Ethanol can also be made from agricultural co-products (waste) such as straw, bran, corn cobs, etc. (Lens et al, 38). Under current practices, ethanol in Saskatchewan is produced using grain rather than agricultural co-products. This is not sustainable since the amount of energy used in the cultivation of the plants, transportation, and the energy intensive process to produce ethanol from grain is often greater than the total amount of energy yielded from the ethanol itself.

The fossil energy replacement ratio (FER) is the energy delivered to the customer over the fossil energy used (Lens et al, 42). The higher the FER, the less greenhouse gases produced per unit of energy delivered to the customer (Lens et al 42). Bio-ethanol made from corn has been found to have an FER of 1.4, while ethanol made from agricultural co-products has an FER as high as 5.3.[14] The FER shows us that using agricultural waste to produce cellulosic ethanol has far greater potential for addressing climate change than ethanol made directly from grain.

In their report on the alleged environmental benefits of biofuels entitled Biofuels: Is the Cure worse than the Disease?, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that even without considering agricultural use of land, only cellulosic ethanol produced from agricultural or forestry waste, sugarcane to ethanol in Brazil, and biodiesel made from animal fats or used cooking oil are capable of reducing greenhouse gas emissions when compared to gasoline and mineral diesel.[15] Government of Saskatchewan biofuels policy must be changed to ensure biofuels production is not an environmental hazard, especially when it is being sold to investors and the public as clean and renewable.

Biofuels production could become more sustainable in the province of Saskatchewan through the following recommendations for changes to provincial biofuels subsidy programs:
The Government of Saskatchewan could change SaskBIO eligibility guidelines by implementing the following measures:
§ Require local agricultural or forestry co-products (waste) to be used to produce biofuels instead of using grain.
§ Re-establish the requirement of an investor to live within a 100 km radius of the project to ensure local economic benefit.
§ Establish sustainability program guidelines, including rural plant locations for all new biofuel production plants that receive funding from SaskBIO.

In order to receive the subsidy of 15 cents per litre of ethanol produced or sold in the province, the Government of could Saskatchewan establish eligibility guidelines for the Saskatchewan Ethanol Grant Program requiring fuel distributors to meet the Saskatchewan gasoline-blending mandate through ethanol produced from agricultural or forestry co-products.

Finally, the Government of Saskatchewan could immediately begin phasing out subsidies for the development and production of non-renewable energy resources, such as oil and gas, coal, the tarsands, and uranium, while immediately phasing in equal amounts of subsidies for sustainable renewable energy resources, including wind and solar power.

This brief study of biofuels management in Saskatchewan offers one example of how putting sustainability first could provide government with direction in energy policy-making initiatives. This example is but one example of many that show how the Government of Saskatchewan is failing to best meet the energy needs of the province, in a manner that is safe, reliable, and environmentally-sustainable.


[1] See http://www.environmentaldefence.ca/reports/pdf/TarSands_TheReport.pdf.
[2] “Manitobans tout low-cost isotope plan” Winnipeg Free Press, Aug. 1, 2009, Pg A4
[3] Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. See, http://www.ccnr.org/isotopes.html.
[4] “Firm raises eyebrows with their suggestion of nuclear powered mines” - Montreal Gazette, Aug. 18, 2009
[5] See Achieving Sustainability: Reform or Transformation? http://jpl.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/9/4/343. William E. Rees.Journal of Planning Literature, May 1995; vol. 9: pp. 343 – 361.
[6] See Achieving Sustainability: Reform or Transformation? http://jpl.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/9/4/343. William E. Rees.Journal of Planning Literature, May 1995; vol. 9: pp. 343 – 361.
[7] See http://www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca/SaskBIO.
[8] See http://www.saskethanolnow.ca/Default.aspx?DN=48f17e5a-79d7-4f67-9c00-b45fbd311022.
[9] See http://www.saskethanolnow.ca/Default.aspx?DN=48f17e5a-79d7-4f67-9c00-b45fbd311022.
[10] See http://www.saskethanolnow.ca/Default.aspx?DN=48f17e5a-79d7-4f67-9c00-b45fbd311022.
[11] See Boyle, Edward R. April 2008. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives- Saskatchewan. July 28, 2008 http://www.policyalternatives.ca/documents/Saskatchewan_Pubs/2008/SaskNotes_Biofuels.pdf. [12] See http://www.gov.sk.ca/adx/aspx/adxGetMedia.aspx?mediaId=410&PN=Shared.
[13] See http://www.saskethanolnow.ca/Default.aspx?DN=fed8966f-5f00-492b-ac9d-e6e2411273c9.
[14] For more information on the fossil energy replacement ratio (FER), see page 42 of Biofuels for Fuel Cells: Renewable energy from biomass fermentation. Ed. Piet Lens, Peter Westermann, Marianne Haberbauer, and Angelo Moreno. London, UK: IWA Publishing, 2005.
[15] See http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/51/17/40881598.pdf.


Sources for Biofuels section:

Biofuels for Fuel Cells: Renewable energy from biomass fermentation. Ed. Piet Lens, Peter Westermann, Marianne Haberbauer, and Angelo Moreno. London, UK: IWA Publishing, 2005.

Boyle, Edward R. April 2008. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives- Sakatchewan. 28 July 2008 .

Hall, Angela. "Production underway at Terra Grain. " Leader Post [Regina, Sask.] 9 Aug. 2008,D.1. Canadian Newsstand Major Dailies. ProQuest. Dr. John Archer Library, Regina, Saskatchewan.13 Jan. 2009 .

Vieira, Paul. "Ottawa still hot on pushing ethanol use; Good Politics. " National Post [Don Mills, Ont.] 11 Jul 2008,FP.1. Canadian Newsstand Major Dailies. ProQuest. Dr. John Archer Library, Regina, Saskatchewan. 13 Jan. 2009 .