Dr Swann Debates Bill 27 – Renewable Electricity Act – 24 November 2016

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Thursday, November 24, 2016

Bill 27 – Renewable Electricity Act (Second Reading)

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, I won’t belabour issues, but I’m pleased to speak to the second reading on this important bill, Bill 27, and enthusiastically support this in principle. This is the second reading. This is where we talk about the principle of the bill. Generally in third reading we talk about the details of the bill and how it might be implemented and what some of the problems . . .

The Speaker: Hon. member, just for clarity, you’re on the amendment.

Dr. Swann: We’re on the amendment. I will be speaking against the amendment. This is a critically important time in Alberta history. You know, we are almost the last ones to the game here in Alberta. The rest of the world is going on way ahead of us. I was wanting to just illustrate that by some numbers from the United Nations environment program which indicate public market investment in renewable energy was up 21 per cent last year, $13 billion. This is a market that is booming. This is an investment opportunity that’s growing. It is recognizing that we are moving on from a fossil fuel dependent province to something that’s a better mix. Obviously, we’re going to need fossil fuels for decades, but let’s start, at least, to make a serious commitment to renewable energy.

So let’s not toss this bill out quickly. We are being asked to support, in the first phase, 400 megawatts of renewable energy in 2017 on a competitive bid process. There’s nobody that’s going to build new renewables without a longer term commitment, and we don’t want people to bid without a competitive bid process. So if we want to see any start, any indication to the rest of the world that we’re serious about shifting our energy dependency from coal-fired power to renewables, let’s start now.

There may be many details that are untenable, depending on how this market unfolds. I agree in many ways that we haven’t been given the details that we need to ensure that the energy that we are going to be paying for is competitive and that it’s not going to cost more. But, frankly, as somebody who has been waiting for legislation for 12 years in my own political life and even before that, before I got into politics, we have to start making progress not only to convince our partners in Canada as well as internationally that we’re serious about climate change but that we see the writing on the wall for energy savings, cost savings in the long term, jobs.

Increased numbers of jobs will be associated with renewable energy – that’s a fact – two to three times more jobs associated with renewables than with the traditional fossil fuel energy. When people like our esteemed Calgary Economic Development director speak so positively about the opportunities even in Calgary to start moving in this direction for jobs and diversifying our economy, becoming less dependent on this single resource, I think we have to take notice. I think my concerns, like many, are that if we lose control over this building and if we, as a result of going too quickly, don’t attract either the investment or have to start subsidizing investment because of artificial targets that aren’t met with the phase-out of coal, then we’re all going to be very uncomfortable with what happens in an already difficult economy.

But this is the time to talk about, in my view, the important message we’re sending if we’re now talking about the principle of the bill, slamming it at this level and punting it at this level without talking about all the dimensions that we need to, including how it’s going to be, what the bidding process is going to be like, how much we’re going to have to subsidize in some cases if the price is too low. If the price of electricity continues to be as low as it is, there is no question that those who are in contracts to produce renewable energy are going to have to be subsidized because they are going to have to make some money over the next 20 years or they’re not going to build. That’s just the reality.

Frankly, I’m willing to pay, as the Stern report from the U.K. has said, 1 per cent of GDP today so that my children don’t have to pay 20 per cent of GDP to deal with the extreme weather events, the new infectious diseases, and the massive migration of people that are going to be coming here looking for a place to stay because they are flooded out of their own homes and can’t get the access to the resources. I am willing to pay more to try and make sure that we move along this line.

This is a baby step, folks. This first 5,000 megawatts particularly is a baby step. Let’s make sure that we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Let’s give this a chance to see what it can do. We obviously don’t have all the facts, but we’re going to have to hold it accountable. We’re going to have to have checks and balances. We’re going to have to see what the timelines are with the coal phase-out.

But let’s get serious about what is the most serious threat according to many institutions, including the United States Defense department. It says that global warming is the most serious threat to stability on the planet today. That’s pretty impressive when the United States Defense department says that this is something that we have to get serious about.

I misspoke, Mr. Speaker. It’s only 400 megawatts at the first bidding. I said 5,000. It’s a 5,000 surplus. That’s what we have right now, and that will be keeping our prices so low, but it’s 400 megawatts that’s actually being proposed in the first competition.

I just wanted to get my views on the record because it sounds so negative right now. We can see the holes so far in the lack of detail, the lack of costs and benefits and how it’s going to work in terms of sequencing, but I guess at this stage in the debate, pending more information, that I’m hoping we will see over the course of this debate, I am in principle very much in support of finding a way to move forward on renewable energy for our sakes and for future generations and for the sake of our pipelines. This seems to be an issue for much of Canada, that Alberta has not been responsible in managing its carbon, has not been responsible in enforcing good environmental regulations, has not been responsible somehow in ensuring that the health of the environment, which is the basis of our economy, has to be paramount if we’re going to have an economy and if we’re going to have a healthy population.

I will be voting against this amendment, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker: Under 29(2)(a)? Cardston-Taber-Warner to the Member for Calgary-Mountain View.

Mr. Hunter: Yes. I was interested to hear the points made by the Member for Calgary-Mountain View. He says that he’s very much willing to pay more, but the question this House has to ask is: are we willing to tell other Albertans that they have to pay more? My question to the member is: are you so sure that you are right that you are willing to trump the 80 per cent that are against this and tell them that they have to pay more for their price on electricity?

Dr. Swann: Well, that’s a fair question, Mr. Speaker. I’ve wrestled with this ever since I got into the Legislature. The population of Alberta in certain polls has said that they want to see business as usual. What does leadership look like when you see the writing on the wall and you see that many Albertans are not fully informed? In this case none of us are fully informed about the details of this issue. I guess they elected me to lead, to represent not only their interest but their children’s interests. They elected me to ensure that I looked not only at short-term economics but the longer term economics and environment and health. That’s part of the reason I was a champion for getting coal out of our electricity sector.

I think the question has not been asked: how much would you be willing to pay to ensure a better future for our children? It’s usually presented to the population as, “Are you willing to pay substantially more for cleaner energy?” without saying what the health impacts might be and what the long-term impacts will be in terms of our pipeline opportunities. It’s always a black-and-white question that seems to be asked in polling without kind of the nuances that people, I think, need. “Well, compared to what? What benefits am I going to get, and what costs am I willing to pay?” It’s a much more complex question than just: are you willing to pay more or less for your electricity? It’s kind of like asking people: are you willing to pay more taxes? Well, very few people will say yes unless it’s going to deliver something more to their lives.

It’s a difficult question. We have to wrestle with it as legislators. Are we going to kind of follow the polls, or are we going to actually lead on something that we know at a very deep level has been neglected for many years, particularly in Alberta, where we have the technology, we have the money, we have the smarts, we have all the resources we need to lead on this issue rather than be dragged along with the rest of the world, that are moving way ahead? As I mentioned, the UN environment program indicated a very substantial increase in renewable investment all over the planet. People are looking for business opportunities not only because it’s making money for them but also because it’s moving us in the right direction as a planet. Thank you.

The Speaker: Any other questions under 29(2)(a)? The Member for Calgary-Greenway.

Mr. Gill: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you very much to the hon. Member for Calgary-Mountain View. That is very, very important and insightful information that you shared, those data. I’m not saying that we’re against that. All the intent of this amendment is: let’s call a time out because we have seen the behaviour of this government. We have seen the behaviour of this government on Bill 6 , on the MGA, on the carbon tax. Can we consult on it with the stakeholders? That’s the whole idea. Just delay it six months so that we can consult. Every single Albertan will be impacted. We recognize climate change, and we recognize that this is important. The whole world is going towards this direction, and we need to be there. I understand that, and we support that. All I’m saying is: why is the hon. member opposing that we do more consultation, sir, if I may? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Dr. Swann: I wasn’t going to speak about Trump, but I guess I have to. He has thrown a wrench, I think, into a lot of our thinking and planning. He has certainly raised a lot of questions about how competitive we’re going to be. If the coal industry gets a huge spur from Trump in the States, it raises real questions about our ability to compete in our own petroleum industry, and it highlights, again, our overdependence on the U.S.