Canada's green energy sector is growing steadily at a clip of 14 percent more jobs and 88 percent more investment in renewable power generation, according to a new report that says "the federal government is AWOL on the file."
Clean Energy Canada, a think tank housed at British Columbia's Simon Fraser University, says the growth in 2014 is in spite of, not thanks to, the federal government, and Canada is still falling behind other countries, including its neighbor to the south.
The growth in renewables comes at a time that Canada and other nations around the world are weighing whether to continue to support fossil fuel extraction or to shift investment toward emission-less energy sources like wind, hydro-electric, and solar.
In a ranking of how attractive 40 countries' economies are to investors in renewables, Ernst & Young placed Canada seventh, behind China, the US, and Germany. Canada's high ranking is thanks to a wealth of hydro-electric facilities, which account for the vast majority of renewables, but the CEC emphasized that domestic wind and solar capacity continues to increase — wind by 5.8 gigawatts between 2010 and 2014, and solar by 1.7 gigawatts in the same period. Hydro-electric for the same period saw a total increase of 1.6 gigawatts.
In recent years, the provinces have taken the lead in renewable investment, while the federal government has continued to support the oil and gas sector with hefty subsidies. And with an especially competitive federal election underway amid slumping oil prices, party leaders have had to state their positions on what the country's energy future will look like.
"We have a question for all of the candidates, for all of the men wanting to be the prime minister of Canada: where do they stand on this? What are they going to do on the clean energy file?" CEC executive director Merran Smith told VICE News,
"Are they going to make Canada a clean energy superpower?" she continued. "We have the potential to be that, we have the potential to grow the sector, the clean-tech sector. We're doing OK right now, but if we really and truly want to be a leader, we need support from the federal government. So what are they going to do?"
It's not the first time this election that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been questioned on continued investment in the oil and gas sector during an economic downturn. His response has been that Canada needs to stay the course.
"These are temporary effects," he said in early August. "We all knew with lower oil prices, lower resource prices, there's going to be some temporary effects in some sectors of the economy. Analysts are predicting good growth for the country into the future as long as we stay on track."
Canada's auditor general found the domestic fossil fuel sector received an estimated $1.47 billion in tax credits over the fiscal period between 2006-07 and 2010-11, "primarily relating to the accelerated capital cost allowance for oil sands projects." However, when it comes to direct spending, the auditor general said it amounted to $508 million from 2007-08 to 2011-12. If extended over 30 years, that would "represent a significant decline in direct spending support to the sector since the 30 years preceding our 2000 study of government support for energy investments."
Both NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Green leader Elizabeth May have promised to end fossil fuel subsidies. May went further, saying the Greens oppose on principle any pipeline or shipment of unprocessed bitumen.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau vowed to phase out subsidies to the fossil fuel industry — the same promise the Conservatives made in 2009. The Liberals would invest a total of $300 million a year in the renewable energy sector, Trudeau said.
In 2015, the price of oil has dropped with no relief in sight, bringing Canadian jobs in that sector down with it. But the CEC told VICE News the increased investment in renewables in 2014 does not appear to be related to the drop in the oil sector.
While Canada remains conflicted on oil, the country has begun to turn its back on coal. Since 2010, domestic utilities have closed 4,600 megawatts of coal power plants, which the CEC report says is the equivalent of taking 8.7 million cars off the roads.
Canada has committed to shifting away from polluting energy sources, with a promise to reduce emissions by 30 percent under 2005 levels by 2030. It remains to be seen what the next federal government will bring to the highly-anticipated Paris climate summit, which begins November 30.
Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont
Photo via Flickr The Kids and Kahlie