Energy demand will lead to inflation: expert

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - Growing global demand for energy will soon push Canadian retail gasoline prices over $1.50 and spark a surge in inflation, particularly for food, gas and home heating, CIBC World Markets chief economist Jeff Rubin warned recently.

Oil-producing nations are gulping down an ever-growing amount of their own output, and large new sources such as the Alberta oilsands are substantially more expensive to develop than conventional oilfields, Rubin said in the keynote presentation at a CIBC conference in Vancouver on opportunities in the clean energy sector.

Rubin said the world appears to be closing in on the absolute limit of its capacity to produce oil.

He figures production will peak at a level just three to four million barrels per day higher than present consumption of about 82 million barrels a day.

By 2012, he sees oil trading at $150 a barrel, and gasoline retailing in Canada for $1.50 per litre of regular.

As a consequence of higher energy prices, he expects inflation in North America to jump to four or five per cent by 2011 -- even before carbon taxes such as those introduced this week by the B.C. government increase enough to show a noticeable impact upon gross domestic product.

Rubin said signs of inflation for food and fuel are already emerging in the United States, and added that Canada has been buffered only by the surge in value of the Canadian dollar.

"I think food and energy are on a one-way ticket to inflation - higher and higher and higher," he said. "We are already seeing U.S. consumer price index food inflation running at five per cent.

"Energy (price inflation) is running at four to five per cent in the U.S. You don't see it here in Canada only for one reason, the appreciation of the Canadian dollar, because so much of our food comes from the U.S. and oil prices are in U.S. dollars."

Meanwhile, concerns about global warming have more or less killed prospects in the U.S. for any new coal-fired generating plants to keep pace with U.S. demand for electricity.

That means a shift to power plants using natural gas to generate electricity - they emit about half the carbon dioxide of comparably sized coal plants and are seen as an essential transition from coal to nuclear and large-scale green energy.

"The big, big energy crunch and certainly the big battle over CO2 emissions is not going to be fought at the gas station. It's going to be fought at the power plant. I don't believe it is socially acceptable to build new coal-fired capacity in most places in North America - even places like Texas."

Rubin has a talent for headline-grabbing predictions that come to pass. In 2005, he said the global price for a barrel of oil would reach $100 by 2007, a level it briefly reached in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange for April delivery before closing at $99.81.


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