If the U.S. and China can agree on renewables, surely our provinces can do the same

After a tumultuous couple of years in Chinese-American relations, photos of smiling climate envoys shaking hands have graced the front pages of international papers. What is the one thing they can agree on? Tripling renewable energy in both countries by 2030. 

And they’re in good company this week, as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will launch a global pledge to triple renewables and double energy efficiency at COP28, the world’s major climate conference. Our biggest trade partners have found common ground.

And yet this sort of endorsement for variable renewables like wind and solar hasn’t been common in Canada over the last several years. While the federal government is still implementing its Clean Electricity Regulations — designed to move our national grid towards being fully clean by 2035 —achieving such an outcome will only be possible with the participation of provinces, for whom energy is a central responsibility.

Only recently have we seen Nova Scotia, Quebec, B.C. and Ontario lay plans for more wind and solar, and even then, there have been stops and starts. Alberta, the solar capital of Canada, slapped a moratorium on new renewable development, putting at risk both jobs and investment.

And yet it would be a mistake to view renewables as an active battleground in the culture wars, losing sight of their real value as key technologies that can deliver low-cost electricity at a time when demand is growing. 

Canadians overwhelmingly prefer solar (74 per cent), wind (67 per cent), and hydropower (67 per cent) compared to just 46 per cent who support natural gas and 18 per cent who support coal, according to a new poll from Clean Energy Canada and Abacus Data. Only a piddling 5 per cent actually oppose solar, with 7 per cent against wind. Hardly a wedge issue.

It’s also true that Canada comes to this conversation with a noteworthy headstart: our grid is hydropower-rich and thus already 84% non-emitting. But electricity demand is expanding rapidly, and wind and solar, which make up a combined 7 per cent of power generation in Canada, should play a leading role in meeting new demand. The move away from fossil fuel generation, meanwhile, has been slow, with its share falling only 3% between 2015 and 2021.

This lukewarm approach to renewables is in stark contrast to other countries. The amount of new renewable capacity added across the globe just this year is set to be more than the entire installed capacity of Germany and Spain. 

And it’s no wonder when you look at how prices have plummeted over the last decade. The cost of new solar projects declined globallyby 88 per cent between 2010 and 2021, while onshore wind fell by 68 per cent. Here at home, a recent Clean Energy Canada study found that electricity from wind and solar is already cost-competitive with natural gas generation in Ontario and Alberta, with even more cost reductions on the horizon.

This shift in cost is leading to champions in some of the most unlikely places. Texas leads renewable development in the U.S. by a country mile with a sixfold capacity increase since 2019. In the Lonestar state’s own words, “It ain’t even close.” At peak times, wind and solar represent roughly 35 per cent to 40 per cent of power generation in Texas. 

Variable renewables like wind and solar could contribute 54 per cent or more of Canada’s total electricity generation according to one recent assessment. So while we ain’t close to Texas either at this point, we’re even further away from realizing our potential.

While regional opportunities will differ, every province should take steps to maximize the role renewables play in providing cheap, clean and secure electricity. Nova Scotia’s new power plan aims for 80 per cent renewables by 2030 while also eyeing up its massive offshore wind potential to produce green hydrogen. Hydro Quebec’s new Action Plan 2035 lays out plans to triple the energy the province gets from wind, especially as demand grows from Quebec’s neighbours for more clean power. And both B.C. and Ontario have started advertising near-term procurements focused on new wind and solar resources.

With the global winds powering a shift to renewable energy, it’s high time for all political leaders to shed any outdated ideas about renewables. Maximizing the role of low-cost clean power is a bright north star every province and territory can and should work toward, no matter where they’re starting from.

This post is co-authored by Evan Pivnick and originally appeared on iPolitics.

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