Canadian Environmental Assessment Should Favor Clean Renewable Electricity

The Canadian Hydropower Association (CHA), founded in 1998 to provide leadership for the responsible growth and prosperity of the Canadian hydropower industry, has been involved in the five-year review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) from its beginning in December 1999. In February 2000, the CHA submitted a first brief to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

Bill C-19, tabled by David Anderson, P.C., M.P., Minister of the Environment, in March 2001, introduces significant changes to the CEAA that could improve the environmental assessment of energy projects. However, the CHA still has concerns regarding the environmental assessment process and its application. The following brief contains the Association’s analysis of Bill C-19, as well as specific recommendations that would ensure the continued development of hydropower. The CHA believes that hydropower is the best source of energy, in technical, economic, social and environmental terms, to meet Canada’s demand. Hydropower is a clean, renewable, reliable and flexible source of electricity. Because of its storage capacity, it is the best source of electricity to support intermittent renewable sources such as wind and solar power. Hydropower produces virtually no air pollutants that cause acid rain and smog, no polluting or toxic waste by-products, and very few greenhouse gases (GHG). In fact, by replacing high- emitting forms of electricity production such as fossil-fuel power plants, which are responsible for 17 percent of GHG emissions in Canada, hydropower can contribute to the reduction of air pollution and help Canada meet its objectives in reducing GHG emissions. If coal fired generation had been developed instead of hydropower, Canada’s total GHG emissions would be 60 percent higher than they are today. Despite the clear advantages of hydropower over other available sources of electricity, hydropower faces serious difficulties in environmental permitting. For example, because hydropower projects are by nature more capital intensive and require longer construction times than fossil fuel power plants, they are more affected by the uncertainty regarding the outcome, timing and requirements of the environmental assessment process, and by the duplication of work due to insufficient harmonization between provincial/territorial and federal processes. In addition, the present environmental assessment process puts excessive emphasis on local impacts and does not take into consideration large-scale negative impacts on the environment such as acid rain, smog or global warming, which have serious detrimental effects on the health of Canadians as well as fisheries and forests; that it does not do so privileges fossil fuel power plants over hydropower plants. Hydropower project development has local impacts on the environment; however, careful planning and operation, in collaboration with local communities, can minimize these impacts, as can the implementation of mitigation and environmental enhancement measures. The impacts of fossil fuel power plants, on the other hand, are long term, and large scale. The CHA makes concrete recommendations that it believes can further improve the Canadian environmental assessment process and help ensure the development of the best source of electricity, in environmental, social and economic terms. These recommendations, detailed in the brief, include proposals to reduce the duration of the environmental assessment, to ensure that the scope of the assessment is reasonable, and to consider emissions or offsets of GHG in the environmental assessment of energy projects. Canada offers many opportunities for new projects that can be developed with respect for the environment and within a context of sustainable development. According to a survey conducted by Léger Marketing, the majority of Canadians (72 percent) support the development of more hydropower projects to meet the energy demand. The number of respondents in favor of hydropower climbs to 85 percent when they are asked to take into account the fact that these projects could improve the environment by displacing GHG emitting sources of electricity. As a clean, renewable source of electricity that can help Canada reduce its GHG emissions, hydropower is the sound environmental choice for Canadians. As such, the Canadian environmental assessment process should ensure that the sustainable development of hydropower is favored over less renewable electricity sources. The Canadian Hydropower Association looks forward to working with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency on regulatory and policy issues related to the CEAA. About the Author With many years of experience in public policy advocacy and policy research, Pierre Fortin has been the Executive Director of the Canadian Hydropower Association since April 1999. He is also a Director of the Energy Council of Canada and a member of the National Electricity Roundtable.
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