Contributed by Robert Lyman @ May 2016

Robert Lyman is an energy economist and former public servant with 27 years experience in the field and a decade of experience as a diplomat.

On May 16, 2016, The Globe and Mail has recently published the details of a proposed climate change plan that the Kathleen Wynne government in Ontario proposes to implement. Public reaction has focused largely on three proposed measures – the ban of natural gas use in the province, the requirement that all new houses be heated by electrical energy, and the subsidies of up to $14,000 per vehicle and other measures designed to force the pace of electric vehicle sales. All of these measures and more are to be funded by a large carbon tax imposed on consumers.

These measures, in fact, are fully consistent with the broader, long-term plan that Canada adopt the goal of “100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water and Sunlight (WWS) by 2050”. The WWS vision calls for converting all energy use (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industry, and agriculture/forestry/fishing) to be powered by wind, water and sunlight. It further seeks the closing of all energy production and consumption associated with fossil fuels (i.e. coal, oil and natural gas) and nuclear energy.

The WWS vision includes a detailed proposal for the energy sources Canada should use by 2050. The primary supply would come from onshore wind (37.5%), offshore wind (21%), and solar photovoltaic (PV) (17.7%). Residential and commercial rooftop solar panels would add 3.4 %. Hydroelectric energy would still play an important role, supplying 16.5% of national needs. The rest would be provided by a combination of wave, tidal and geothermal energy. Along with fossil fuels, nuclear energy would be banished.

This vision is based on highly questionable assumptions and expectations.

In the next 34.5 years, Canada would have to install 60,000 wind turbines. That means 1,764 per year or 5 units a day every day between now and January 1, 2050. The prominent role assigned to offshore wind turbines is striking: to meet the WWS goal, we would have to build 21,155 offshore wind turbines. As of today, we have precisely none.

The costs of the onshore wind facilities will range from $1.35 million to $1.8 million per MW and considerably more for offshore turbines. As the 100% WWS scenario calls for over 10 million MW of new capacity in Canada, the cost would be at least $10 trillion, and possibly as high as $18 trillion, for generation facilities. That is before considering the costs for transmission lines, grid upgrades or roads to access the facilities. Considering that Canada’s GDP is around $1.8 trillion per year, we would have to dedicate our entire economic output for 5.5 to 10 years just to pay for the wind facilities.

The WWS foresees generation from hydroelectricity doubling its share of electricity supply, from 8 to 16.5 %. According to the National Energy Board 2016 report on Canadian energy supply and demand projections to 2040, hydro-based generating capacity, including small hydro and run-of–river facilities, will increase from 77 GW in 2014 to 87 GW in 2040. Due to faster growth in other forms of generation, such as wind and natural gas fired generation, the share of hydroelectricity generation is expected to decline from 59 per cent in 2014 to 57 percent in 2040. The question is, “Where in the world do the believers in WWS think the additional hydro generation is supposed to come from?”

According to the WWS plan, Canada will need 27,323 wave power devices and 1,980 tidal turbines. We have zero wave devices installed in Canada at the end of 2015; indeed, there are only a few small wave power devices installed worldwide because the technology is so immature. We have not yet even begun to design or test such systems commercially in Canada.

The transmission costs would be immense as the generation facilities would all be located hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometers from the main centres of electricity consumption. Even the most optimistic view puts the cost of a national backbone of 735 kV transmission lines at around CDN $104 billion and taking 20 years to complete. Once that were built, we would have to start on an equally, if not more, expensive network of collector and feeder transmission lines to every city, town, and hamlet. This simply could not be done in 35 years.

The WWS roadmap calls for the shutting down of all coal, oil and natural gas production, preferably before 2030. Coal, oil and natural gas are extremely important components of the economies of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

In Canada, there are about 150,000 hybrid electric light duty vehicles on the roads. The most recent data on electric vehicles sales are to the end of June 2015. At that point in time, there were 14,300 plug-in vehicles registered in Canada, half of which were plug-in hydrids and the other half battery powered all-electric vehicles. The sales of plug-ins during the first half of 2015 were 2,779. Of the total number on the roads, most were small vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt or the Nissan Leaf; there were only 394 Teslas. As of the end of 2014, plug-in electric vehicles had 0.27 of total vehicle market share in Canada — roughly speaking, one out of every 300 cars sold in Canada is an EV.  By comparison, in 2015, total light duty vehicle sales in Canada in 2015 were 1,900,000. Plug-ins barely register.

Canadian buyers are showing considerable resistance to all-electric vehicles, preferring the more user-friendly hybrids. Factors such as high prices, uncertain resale values, the inconvenience of plugging the vehicle in, the recharge time and limited range are difficult for consumers to ignore.

It is difficult to imagine that moving even partially in the direction proposed by the WWS would be accepted without enormous political resistance in Canada. Business and labour groups would unite to fight against the existential threat to their incomes and future wellbeing. Consumers and taxpayers would confront governments over the high costs imposed by carbon taxes and the limitations imposed on choice. Canada’s regional divisions, already aggravated due to the uneven effects of economic recession and globalized trade, might not be containable. In these circumstances, one wonders how Confederation would survive.