Power, we have - infrastructure, not so much

- There's an irony in Canada's energy sector; one that requires immediate attention and action.

Our nation has the power to take us through the 21st century and beyond; we have the renewable generating capacity to energize households and factories from Victoria to St. John's. What we lack is the infrastructure to deliver all of this power - and without sustained action on a strong east-west grid that will support this country's growing demand for clean energy, Canadians may find themselves squandering a key competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Energy, more than ever before, is a strategic resource that's commanding the attention of countries around the planet. The Asian and Indian subcontinent economies are expanding rapidly; oil and gas prices are volatile and fluctuations in these commodities are causing spikes in electricity prices worldwide.

What's more, the landscape is being complicated by the urgent need to address climate change.

Ottawa has announced funding for carbon sequestration and, while this has the potential to reduce emissions in the future, significant time and development effort are required before technology can make meaningful reductions to greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, Canadians can make significant reductions today: with hydropower.

Newfoundland and Labrador alone has an estimated 6,000 megawatts of untapped hydro potential. The 2,800 MW Lower Churchill Project could theoretically replace 60 per cent of the thermal generating capacity in Atlantic Canada or 17 megatonnes of emissions - a reduction that's equal to the pollution created by 3.2 million cars annually. Put another way, the lower Churchill resource and the existing Churchill Falls Generating Station could produce the electrical equivalent of 225,000 barrels of oil a day - forever.

There are others. Manitoba claims a total untapped hydroelectric potential of 5,000 MW, including the planned Conawapa Station on the Lower Nelson River, which will add 1,250 MW to the grid. The 900-MW Site C project in British Columbia and the 1,500-MW Romaine Complex in Quebec can also make significant contributions to the supply of renewable, non-emitting electricity.

The federal government's goal is to reduce approximately 55 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector by 2020 - and given our nation's undeveloped hydroelectric resources, it ought to be an attainable one.

Our collective challenge is delivering these renewable supplies to the markets that need them, on both sides of the border. According to a survey by Navigant Consulting, our east-west and north-south transmission interconnections are already operating at close to full capacity, seriously constraining the ability of provincial electricity systems to export or import additional power. Transmission bottlenecks are particularly troubling for Central Canada, which faces significant capacity shortfalls in the next five to 10 years.

The development of a submarine high-voltage direct current link between Newfoundland, the Maritime provinces and the northeastern U.S. - or increased transmission capacity between Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba - would enable displacement of coal- and oil-fired generation in major markets on both sides of the border with renewable, non-emitting hydroelectricity.

It would be a start; a "first spike" driven in the pursuit of a new railway for a new millennium. But to be truly effective, Canadians need to unite under the banner of a new east-west grid in order for all of us to benefit from the wealth of environmentally friendly, reliable and sustainable power our country has to offer.

The concept has been publicly supported by Ottawa and, to its credit, some inroads have been made through EcoTrust funding. But the long-term competitive energy advantage Canada could establish globally will require investments of a different magnitude: regionally, provincially, and federally.

What's needed is a clear vision, strategy and execution plan; leaders with a will and a passion to move the agenda forward; and the drive to overcome barriers and courage to find solutions - solutions for a sustainable future for Canada.

Previous generations of Canadians excelled at the exercise of nation-building. Our forefathers linked oceans with railway lines; they connected great lakes with canals. Their strength prompted Sir Winston Churchill to comment that, "there are no limits to the majestic future which lies before the mighty expanse of Canada with its virile, aspiring, cultured, and generous-hearted people."

If we're made of the same mettle, then, that "majestic future which lies before the mighty expanse of Canada" will continue into the 21st century - and beyond.



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