Green and Black at the Same Time? Inside Quebec's Draft Energy Strategy

Energy Issues Translation PaperQuebec would like to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, leverage its clean and green electricity surplus, promote energy efficiency, and develop new renewables.

It would also like to “responsibly” exploit its oil and gas resources.

Those are some of the key threads of From Greenhouse Gas Reduction to Québec’s Energy Self-Sufficiency, a consultation paper that the provincial government has been shopping around in recent weeks. The paper is expected to form the core of a new provincial energy strategy, to be released in the coming months.

“Québec has started reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and more has to be done,” Martine Ouellette, the minister of natural resources, wrote in the document’s introduction. “We will have to cut our use of fossil fuels through tougher energy efficiency programmes and through fuel switching to renewables, especially in the transportation sector.”

In the past month, many business and green groups chimed in on the discussion document, including SWITCH—the newly formed coalition of Quebec civil-society groups and businesses pushing for a green economy vision for the province.

“We think reducing oil consumption and our greenhouse gas emissions should be the centerpiece of a new energy policy,” said Karel Mayrand, executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation in Québec.

Denis Leclerc, CEO of Écotech, Québec’s cleantech cluster, echoed Mayrand’s comments.

“Our companies will greatly benefit from this, from using electricity in the transportation sector to biofuels, energy efficiency, green chemistry and mass public transit,” Leclerc said. “The opportunities are real.”

The Government of Québec has previousy pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by the year 2020, compared to 1990 levels—one of the most ambitious targets on the continent. It also committed to reduce oil demand 30 percent by 2020.

While Québec’s energy grid is already more than 97 percent renewable-based—dominated by a mix of large hydro and wind—oil and gas still meet half of total energy demand in the province. That’s why the new consultation document emphasizes electric vehicles, progressive urban planning to reduce the need for driving, ideas for industry to seek non-petroleum alternatives, and clean-energy space heating in homes, businesses, and factories.

One of the two hearing commissioners, Normand Mousseau, a professor at Montréal’s École des Hautes Études Commerciales (HEC), noted that the province has risen to such a challenge in the past. In the introduction to the report, he cites the massive fuel switch in the 1980s, when the province moved from oil to electricity as a result of two oil shocks, energy efficiency programmes and fuel switching from oil to electricity for space heating.

“In the course of eight years, Québec reduced oil demand by 40 percent,” Mousseau said in the document’s introduction. “It can be done again.”

While reducing oil demand is one priority, producing more is clearly another.

The consultation document highlights the government’s determination to begin oil production in the province. “When we will be producing oil,” Premier Marois said, “ it will be to make Quebeckers more prosperous.”

The government reasons that Québec will will still be using oil to some measure even as it reduces overall consumption. The province argues that Québec oil is preferable to other oil, as the resulting jobs and revenue would directly benefit the province—not enrich the coffers of others.

Critics deride this argument, noting that oil is not a source of pride and identity, but rather an international commodity on its way to the highest bidder.

Indeed, Québec environmental groups are stepping up opposition to drilling in pristine areas of the province and the Gulf of St.Lawrence, citing risks such as increased greenhouse gas emissions that could jeopardize the province’s tough emissions targets.

Clearly, being green and black at the same time is a fine line to walk.

The consultations wrap up next week.

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