North American energy policy analysts and market participants will need to “connect the dots” in more than a figurative sense if the halo of good climate intentions that hung over last week’s North American leaders’ summit in Ottawa is to lead to substantive economic transformation, observers agreed.
Energy and climate preoccupied the time the leaders of Mexico, the United States, and Canada spent together, and the summit concluded with the release of a North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership Action Plan. Its headline achievement: a 2025 target for generating at least half the continent’s power from “clean” power sources, “including renewable, nuclear, and carbon capture and storage technologies.”
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Those broad goals will depend heavily, however, on achieving a less headline-making one: multiplying dramatically the power portals through which electrical energy flows among the three NAFTA countries. Canada has significant surpluses of renewable generating capacity and resources. Mexico, currently the most fossil-dependent of the three economies, has substantial solar, wind, and geothermal resources still to be developed. The United States, the world’s largest electricity consumer, has set high goals for shifting off fossil energy, which could more easily be met by importing more clean power from its NAFTA neighbours.
To expedite those energy flows, the leaders’ committed their governments to “support the development of cross-border transmission projects, including for renewable electricity,” noting that “at least six transmission lines currently proposed or in permitting review would add approximately 5,000 megawatts (MW) of new cross-border transmission capacity.”
But there is resistance to some of those. Several environmental groups oppose the US$1.6-billion, 1,100 MW Northern Pass transmission line through New Hampshire, for instance, objecting that it would sacrifice scenic vistas important to tourism, while the construction of big hydro dams floods large tracts of pristine boreal forest.
Sorting among the summit’s photo-ops, presidential rhetoric that might not survive the fall as U.S. policy, and Canada’s political pipeline dilemmas, Environmental Defence’s Dale Marshall called a number of areas of the tripartite plan “promising, and probably some areas, a disappointment.”
The three leaders promised to eliminate “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies in the NAFTA zone by 2025. But, as CleanTechnica recalled, the G-20 group of countries—of which all three North American neighbours are members—made a promise very like that in 2009. In Beijing last week, G-20 energy ministers failed to set a deadline for a subsidy phase-out, despite a concerted push by the United States and China and an appeal from more than 200 non-government organizations.
Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May, meanwhile, objected that the leaders had not taken the opportunity to raise their national emission reduction goals. “It’s clear that our existing targets utterly fail to meet the Paris Accord targets,” May said in a release. “That agreement rests on ratcheting up our current targets, of which Canada’s are the weakest amongst G-7 nations.”
Other items in the plan call for significantly more exchange on energy policy and regulation among the three countries, according to briefing notes released by the Prime Minister’s Office. Two key goals: harmonizing appliance efficiency standards, and “implementing aligned, world-class, ultra low-sulphur diesel fuel and HDV exhaust air pollutant emission standards” by 2018, in order to “drive down black carbon emissions from new heavy-duty diesel vehicles to near-zero levels continent-wide.”
More generally, the three leaders agreed to “study, identify, and implement options for broad energy system integration” across their national economies.
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