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EDITORIAL: Dirty energy isn’t going away


October 6, 2010
by Joe Terrett

There was entertainment at the recent World Energy Congress in Montreal. About 60 Greenpeace protesters put on bathing suits and oiled themselves up with fake petroleum for a “Black Tide Beach Party” to tell us that the world must move away from “dirty energy.” The Greenpeacers are against all forms of dirty energy, from coal to natural gas, but they, and many of their environmentalist friends, have a particular dislike for what comes out of Alberta’s oil sands.

Folks in Washington are also highly critical of the heavy petroleum. So much so, there is a movement afoot to restrict its flow. Indeed, US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi met with premiers, environmental activists, energy industry executives and First Nations representatives to “listen and learn.”

The critics note that mining or sucking the gunk out of the earth generates huge amounts of greenhouse gases, destroys habitats, scars the landscape, and creates huge, toxic tailings ponds that kill ducks.

Well, duh. Let us concede that fossil fuels are dirty, hard on the environment and nonrenewable, so it behoves us to find other ways to generate electricity and fuel our cars, jets and spacecraft. How do we shake ourselves loose from our dependency?

Not a problem, according to a recently released Greenpeace report. Prepared with the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC), and a host of experts, it lays out a scenario that will allow us to clean up our dirty energy habit by 2050.

The report contends Canada can create tens of thousands of green jobs and generate 90% of our electricity and heating needs from renewable sources by simply making the same, massive investments in renewable energy as we have made in fossil fuels.

If only it were that straightforward. The economics of energy are complicated. Canada, for example, derives $3.5 trillion in GDP growth from all the impacts related to petroleum development, according to a 2009 Canadian Energy Research Institute report. That’s a huge fossil fuel infrastructure in need of re-jigging.

Incidentally, how many wind turbines and solar panels will it take to replace fossil-power generation plants and the increased demand that will surely come when we are all driving electric cars that have to be recharged?

Canada is also joining the renewable energy parade a little late. We are but the 14th largest clean tech exporter, with only $4 billion in global sales. A Conference Board of Canada report says venture capital and private equity financing in renewable energy projects grew by almost 70% compounded annually from 2002 to 2008. Looking ahead, the indications are that investments will continue to grow as governments push for more renewable energy alternatives, but that’s not shaping up to be the kind massive investment needed to fulfil a Greenpeace vision of the future.