Clean energy could become the sleeper issue of the campaign

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
The Gazette, Monday, April 4, 2011

Without a defining issue, there's a sleeper: energy, or rather clean energy.

In endorsing Newfoundland's plan to develop the 3,200 megawatts of electricity on the Lower Churchill last week, Stephen Harper framed it as part of "supporting clean-energy projects in every region of the country."

He added: "This project will reduce carbon emissions by 4.5 million tonnes each year - the equivalent of taking 3.2 million cars off the road."

Hydroelectricity is considered a clean energy resource. By contrast, the coal-fired electricity industry in the United States has a carbon footprint 64 times larger than the Canadian oilsands.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, the Alberta oilsands already account for 55 per cent of our exports of 2.4 million barrels a day to the U.S. And oilsands production is expected to double from here to 2015.

The question is whether the U.S. should remain our sole market, or whether alternative markets, notably China, should be developed across the Pacific.

There's only one way to get this done, and that's by building the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline to a deepwater port at Kitimat in British Columbia.

While Harper was making his energy announcement in Newfoundland, Enbridge president and CEO Patrick Daniel was before the Empire Club in Toronto, making a pitch for the Northern Gateway project.

We like to think of ourselves as an energy superpower, Daniel said: "But we're not one yet. It will require strong leadership, strategic vision and focused effort over several years."

He added: "Our energy resources are already a tremendous strategic advantage for Canada, but will provide full value only if we choose to use, develop and make them available to the rest of the world."

There's no denying that as the advocate of a multibillion-dollar pipeline project, Daniel has a vested interest in its success. And there's no denying the obstacles to it getting built: there are obvious environmental issues, and 50 First Nations, along the proposed route. Then there's the question of supertankers coming into the deepwater port, and the possibility of an oil spill on Canada's pristine west coast.

Michael Ignatieff wants to have it both ways. On the one hand he has called the oilsands "a national treasure;" on the other he is opposed to supertankers on the West Coast. In all logic, he can't have it both ways.

In Montreal a few days earlier for a conference at McGill University, Daniel said he'd spoken to the Liberal leader about that.

And?

"He had a better understanding of our position at the end of the conversation," Daniel said, "than he did at the beginning."

Daniel found himself in the media spotlight last summer when an Enbridge pipeline broke and spilled nearly 20,000 barrels of oil into lakes and rivers in Michigan cottage country.

Enbridge's response, and his own, was a textbook case of how to manage a company through a crisis, in direct contrast to BP's handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Where BP's Tony Hayward said "I want my life back" and then went sailing in the U.K., Daniel flew in on the company plane and announced he way staying until the mess was cleaned up. He was good as his word, and stayed for two months.

"It was our mess," he said in Montreal. "It was our job to clean it up."

At the McGill Institute of Canada's conference on Canada-U.S. relations, Daniel joined a moderated conversation with Hydro-Québec president and CEO Thierry Vandal. The dynamic of the conversation was fascinating, in that two major players in the energy space, from Alberta and Quebec, were on the same page. It's also noteworthy that business leaders have by necessity become strong communicators, better than most politicians.

Daniel is a proponent of a "national energy strategy" - not to be confused with a National Energy Program, words that still cannot be pronounced in Calgary.

One of the questions to be framed is whether we want the Americans to be our only customer for oil and gas. If the answer is no, then we need to develop a sustainable solution for moving it to Asian markets.

That's part of the clean energy vision thing, a coming national conversation.

 
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