Monday, February 05, 2007

Alberta's Leadership on Eco Solutions

This column was publish in French in LaPresse on the weekend under the headlines:

"Egoistes, les Albertains?
Non, on manifeste dans l'Ouest une grande Volonte d'etre a l'avant-garde des solutions Pour assurer la perennite de la planete"

which roughly translates as:

The Albertans, self-centred?
No, there's an expression in the West
Of a great desire to be in the avant-garde Of solutions that assure the sustainability of the planet.

Here is the English text:

Alberta’s Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Guy Boutilier played the caricature Albertan when he declared this province to be the “bad boy” of Confederation a few weeks ago.

Boutilier’s posturing made serious people cringe and brought an extraordinary public rebuke from a noted academic who once served as a senior federal bureaucrat. Just like the real climate, the political climate in Alberta is changing. Like other Canadians, Albertans want a meaningful response to global warming, and they will punish politicians who persist in silly confrontation. Far from being the “bad boy,” Alberta demonstrates a strong will to lead the solutions for a sustainable planet.

Last October, our firm sounded Albertans on the subjects that animate them. We used conjoint analysis to get a clear idea of the depth of citizens’ attachment to the matters they considered most important. Environment clearly emerged as the Number One concern in Albertans’ minds – a result we detected three months earlier that the recent national surveys. Clearly then, Albertans are of a mind with other Canadians. Indeed our analysis suggested that environmental sustainability is not merely an issue. It has become a core value – like democracy, freedom of speech and the rule of law.

It will be necessary for our compatriots in Quebec to keep this perspective in mind in the coming weeks, as a parade of caricature Albertans clamour for attention in national media. Like you, we know that our economic prosperity goes hand in hand with environmental sustainability. In fact, influential Albertans see climate change as a business opportunity and some interesting business ideas are under development.

Large energy companies are willing to invest in carbon-capture technologies and the clean energy economy -- as long as government takes the lead in setting out the rules. In the absence of government policy leadership, what profit minded market based enterprise would be the first to undertake the risk in developing the means to slash greenhouse gas emissions, if its competitors are not required to follow suit?

Carbon capture is one such technology. We know that in Alberta, it will cost about $7.5 billion to build a capture and distribution network for CO2 sequestration. This would enable the capture of oil sands and other heavy emitter’s CO2 s, and inject it into aging conventional oil fields. As a result, oil that was not accessible by the old technology will be produced and the CO2 will replace the displaced oil. The initial price tag seems large, but it must be put in the perspective of the $100 billion being invested in developing oil sands extraction.

Oil sands should be considered as more than a petroleum source. This is the largest deposit of hydrocarbons on the planet. The oil sands could be the transition between the petroleum economy of today and the hydrogen economy of tomorrow. Bitumen coke a by-product of oil sands production is a low-cost source of hydrogen.

Hydrogen and synthetic natural gas can also be produced from Alberta's vast coal deposits -- a huge plant is being built to do just that. At the end of 2008, Honda is going to introduce a commercially-available hydrogen car. Initial plans are to install home converters that will extract hydrogen from natural gas, and fuel the car for up to a 500-km range. The emission that comes out of hydrogen combustion is water. Almost all Alberta homes are heated by natural gas and that would facilitate a conversion to a hydrogen car.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is on record asking for a clear set of regulated standards for the energy industry so that its members can plan the investment they need to address climate change. The leaders among them know it will take hundreds of millions of dollars in research and development in emerging technologies to succeed in slashing greenhouse gas emissions. With this investment, they can not only meet the Kyoto targets, they can go even farther with successful carbon capture They will invest that money, if everyone has to play by the same rules and achieve the same goals.

Albertans will eagerly embrace the economic opportunities inherent in environmental stewardship, because we know full well the consequences of failure and inaction.

Satya Das et Ken Chapman
Les auteurs dirigent Cambridge Strategies Inc., groupe-conseil albertain en politique publique.