When Justin Trudeau, Canada's new prime minister, took the stage Monday night to address Canadians after the Liberal party's election win, he emphasized his commitment to change. It is a message that resonates with the country's renewable energy sector because it marks the start of a new era of federal engagement in the issues that are important to continued growth and prosperity.
Action on climate change is at the top of the list. But it's true that there are many questions yet to be answered: For example, the liberals have not committed to specific emissions reduction targets, nor have they been explicit about their preferred mechanism for setting a national carbon price.
But the signs are positive. Trudeau has said he will take part in climate negotiations at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of the year and plans to invite Canada's premiers to join him. Within 90 days following the conference, he will convene a meeting of provincial leaders to come up with a plan to fight climate change.
The liberal platform has also called for the creation of a $2 billion low-carbon economy trust to fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
There is potential for transformation on other fronts, as well. The new government has committed to working with the provinces in the development of a Canadian energy strategy that will bring more renewable energy onto the electricity grid.
It has also indicted it is ready to support provinces in their plans to boost electricity exports to the U.S. – thus opening up an important opportunity for Canada's clean energy producers to play a part in the U.S.' plans to slash carbon emissions from the country's power sector by 32% from 1990 levels over the next 15 years.
Additionally, the government has stressed the need to invest in Canada's infrastructure, including "helping provinces and territories invest in the kind of modern grid, power storage and transmission that ensure a bigger role for clean energy," it has stated.
It has promised to leverage the federal government's creditworthiness to issue green bonds to support both large- and community-scale renewable energy projects and to shift subsidies from fossil fuels to new and clean technologies like wind energy.
Trudeau's emphasis on collaboration with the provinces, I think, is very telling and is a welcome change in tone from the last 10 years. The wind energy sector has experienced firsthand what is possible when the federal and provincial governments combine forces to meet shared goals. Federal production incentives in the mid to late 2000s worked hand-in-hand with provincial procurement initiatives to help kick-start our industry – and now, wind energy is a mainstream and cost-competitive source of electricity right across the country.
Today, there is even more opportunity for both levels of government to find common ground on priorities – ranging from clean job creation to greenhouse gas emissions reduction to technological innovation. The provinces have made important progress in recent years by leveraging investment in wind and other renewables to create tens of thousands of new jobs in communities across the country, as well as by stepping up to develop their own climate action plans.
But with the federal government as a partner, there is potential to do so much more.
Clearly, wind and other renewables can play a strong role in advancing the new government's economic and environmental agenda. We need to remember, however, that details matter. A poorly designed climate policy could drive investment to natural gas and leave Canada no further ahead from an emissions perspective 20 or 30 years from now.
Maximizing the use of renewable electricity ensures that greenhouse gas emission reductions are sustainable over the long term and enables further decarbonization of the economy through electrification of transportation, heating and cooling, and some industrial processes.
The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) has long been vigilant about uncovering opportunities to present wind energy as a solution to challenges at the federal level, but the results of this election provide new hope that the federal government is now willing to resume a leadership role on energy transformation. We are eager to work with Ottawa to ensure that the new pan-Canadian climate framework – and the broader economy – can take advantage of all that wind energy has to offer.
Jean-Francois Nolet is vice president of policy and communications at CanWEA. He can be reached at email@example.com.