Message to Our Elected Representatives: “Can You Hear Us? Hydropower is the Key”

Guest Editorial – By Pierre Fortin

Pierre Fortin is president of the Canadian Hydropower Association based in Ottawa, Canada [].

It’s that time of year again. Leaves are changing color, turning red, orange, and yellow. The air is crisp and cool, announcing the coming of winter. And elections have been called in the U.S. and Canada.

For Canadians, this is the fourth election in eight years. No wonder many of us are suffering from election fatigue – especially because the outcome seems forgone. Many expect current Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, Stephen Harper, to win. As I write this editorial, however, it is not yet clear whether he or another party leader will lead a majority or a minority government.

What is clear, though – as clear as water – is that our current Prime Minister strongly favors the oil and natural gas industries, especially with regard to climate change. Just look at his policy on the Athabasca oil sands, a policy that permits one of the greatest sources of greenhouse gases in the world to continue emitting.

While “a healthy environment for Canadians” is stated as one of his government’s priorities, the government is not moving fast enough to tackle the issues. For example, it has stated that it will implement a “national strategy to reduce Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions 60 to 70 percent by 2050.” I say, too little, too late. And while politicians keep talking about climate change, Canada’s emissions keep rising – 25 percent from 1990 to 2005.

The Canadian hydropower industry has a solution, and politicians should pay attention: Hydropower can help reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and new development will boost the economy by creating jobs and stimulating industry and business.

Hydropower is an intrinsic part of Canada, born of its water-rich geography more than 125 years ago, nurturing social and industrial development, building its economy, all while preserving the environment. (Our readers know that hydropower is clean, renewable, and low emitting.)

With more than 60 percent of electricity production, hydropower defines Canada. And we are lucky that there is still significant potential to be developed.

Despite the enormous advantages of hydropower – which has allowed us to benefit from a stable, flexible, affordable, abundant, and domestic source of clean and renewable energy – challenges have been mounting over the past few decades. (For more on that topic, see the update on hydropower in Canada on page 10.) It is almost as though we Canadians have forgotten where most of our electricity comes from and have forgotten what this means in terms of energy security, affordable rates, and overall peace of mind. That’s where the Canadian Hydropower Association (CHA) comes in.

CHA was created in 1998 by the industry to help it face its challenges and to promote the many benefits of hydropower. We can proudly say that we have accomplished many things over the past ten years. For example, CHA has established itself as the voice for hydro in Canada, widely recognized and respected by government officials, industry leaders, and the media. Our efforts have led to the recognition of hydropower as a renewable and low-emitting source of energy.

Even the present government has acknowledged the role of hydropower in reducing emissions from the electricity sector. During a recent speech at the Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce in London, Prime Minister Harper boasted, “In Canada, we are on track to produce 90 percent of our electricity from non-emitting sources such as hydro, nuclear, and wind by 2020. We have tremendous capacity to develop more non-emitting power sources that can help our big neighbour to the south lower its carbon emissions.”

That’s great! But to achieve this objective we need strong measures, such as emissions reduction credits for hydropower and streamlining of the environmental assessment process. Without these measures, the economic and regulatory costs of developing new hydro could simply be too high.

After ten years as the head of CHA, I will be leaving the organization in the spring of 2009, with complete confidence that it will grow into the future. This year, while we are celebrating our tenth anniversary, we will mark with pride our accomplishments. But, more importantly, we will set our objectives for the next ten years. And for starters, we will be asking to meet with the next government.

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