Edited transcript of Tony Reddin's submission to the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources on behalf of Environmental Coalition of Prince Edward Island (ECO-PEI) on Thursday, March 2, 2011
The main issues raised in Mr. Reddin's submission: 1) using less energy from all sources is a critical part of avoiding more economical and climate catastrophes; 2) young people must be included in these strategy planning discussions and decisions; 3) farming without fossil fuels is a challenge that must be faced; 4) Canadian trade and energy agreements must be negotiated to serve Canadians instead of corporations, and 5) nuclear power is unnecessary, unsafe and uneconomical.
My background is a BSc in Physics and 30 years of involvement with energy and environmental issues, both locally and regionally, and also education work in the schools and such. You all have my short submission, I think, but I am adding a bit to it as we go. Pardon me for that.
ECOPEI, or the Environmental Coalition of P.E.I., is a community-based action group formed in 1988 and our goal is to work in partnerships to understand and improve the Island environment.
Our energy project, which makes us a member of the Atlantic Canada Energy Coalition, has produced several documents including in 2007 Pathways to Sustainable Energy Prosperity on Prince Edward Island extensive recommendations for provincial energy policy, and many of followed in the provincial energy strategies.
First, of course, I thank your standing committee for promoting this important discussion of a sustainable energy strategy for Canada. Your discussion paper, which I did not have a lot of time to study, is a value document and we appreciate the effort you are making to get Canadians involved in these issues. I noticed in particular that one of the goals was how do we engage Canadians in this. I think that is critical.
I will not repeat the evidence that you have, I am sure many times, that our irresponsible overuse of fossil fuels is causing widespread human suffering, climate crises and gross destruction of our planet’s natural beauty and resources.
I do not think I need to give you more technical information about energy efficiency or wind energy or other renewables, although I am going to have a little bit of that, and I am willing to take questions on those.
... I will mention that earlier it was mentioned that you have not heard much about storage of electricity, in particular, energy from wind turbines and what solutions are for that.
I wanted to mention some other ones that help to maximize the use of wind power perhaps you have heard, or perhaps you have not. One is storage without using batteries. For example, using electricity when there is a surplus to heat water or ceramic bricks or some type of mass which then stores that heat and then you can release it when there is less wind and more demand on the electricity.
Another example of that is using the surplus of electricity to cool freezers extra cold, and then when there is less electricity available the freezer still has extra cold in it and it does not need to run at the time of greater demand.
There are others like pressurizing air or pressurizing other fluids to be able to take that energy back from those.
Another method for maximizing wind is shifting the peak. ... This is simply implementing programs to encourage and reward those who use the electricity at the times when there is less demand and lots of supply. That would typically mean a lower price for perhaps overnight hours or other times, for example when there is surplus from lots of wind capacity available...
I do want to raise some other issues that I did not see in the discussion paper – and forgive me if there were things I missed, but still important. Most of those involve an examination of our values as Canadians. I think a Canadian Sustainable Energy Strategy must include and actually be based on a consideration of our values first.
Number one is the choice that I did not see presented there, the choice of using less energy from all sources. This is almost an attitude thing, a choice of how do we actually use less; not how do we use what we are using more efficiently, but where are there places where we just do not need to use ... This is critical if we are going to lower our fossil fuel use, lower our greenhouse gas emissions, and avoid more economic and climate catastrophes.
Your question in the discussion paper was: What does Canada need energy for, and how much do we need? I would answer we need a lot less energy than we are using, and especially a lot less than what we waste.
In another sense of that I would like to paraphrase Gandhi to say solar energy is enough to satisfy everyone’s needs, but not enough to satisfy anyone’s greed. There are limits to the earth’s resources, as we know, and that applies to the construction of all energy projects, whether they are renewable projects or not renewable energy.
Until every political decision in Canada begins with "how can we do this using less fossil fuels or using no fossil fuels at all", we are doomed to continue destroying the planet. We are contributing to the destruction. Is that the choice we want to make? Of course not.
Our present economy I think runs on fossil fuels, on an over-consumption of resources and on unending growth and raising the GDP. Our economy will have to be drastically changed if we are going to get away from being so dependent on fossil fuels. The sooner we make that change to a sustainable economy, the less painful and expensive it is likely to be.
This will require courageous leadership on every level of government showing and inspiring Canadians by example and by cooperation. Practical programs to reduce fossil fuel emissions and increase energy efficiencies are only the first steps of turning away from those destructive habits of the growth economy.
We must also reject fossil fuel projects that endanger our seas and shores such as drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I would refer you back to the excellent presentation you were given in Halifax by Gretchen Fitzgerald of the Sierra Club which included 10 very well stated reasons to protect the gulf.
Of course this is all not to say that we stop using fossil fuels today, but our unending focus has to be how to use less, and how to use our creativity to be fossil-fuel-free as soon as possible. This requires that we be mindful of the choices that we make all the time in our actions, both in the long-term, far-reaching decisions of those with political power, and in the everyday choices of every one of us. For example, I think a meeting like this could have been held at least partly by videoconferencing, and bringing people together by efficient use of existing technology and using a relatively small amount of electricity and transportation fuels. I realize that is a challenge, but I hope it will be implemented.
Also, this room and this building, as nice as it is, and all our workplaces and homes for that matter, could be cooler and still be comfortable, and probably healthier.
The second issue I want to raise is that young people who are the future, of course, must be included in these strategic planning discussions and decisions. That raises the question: How do we do that? We do that by asking them how to include them and then listening to them, and challenging ourselves to set an example for them that will give them hope instead of cynicism.
An important part of engaging young people in society’s decision making is to provide proper funding for schools and programs such as Katimavik, that give young people a place to explore and discuss issues and to be involved in community work.
I might mention that the sustainability program at UPEI that David Taylor just described was initiated, and actually at many other universities too, those were initiatives of the Sierra Youth Coalition, which is a national youth-run organization.
Young people do not need to wait to be asked to be included. They have plenty of initiative, but the potential for their contribution could be so much greater if we give them that chance.
The third issue is to raise the question of agriculture and how can we produce good food without fossil fuels. Food, of course, is a basic need, but Canadian farming methods are very fuel intensive and show little signs of changing. Another aspect of this issue is the shortage of farmers -- the average age of farmers in P.E.I. is almost 60 -- and the difficulties the young people face to start farming. Yet at the same time farms and soil could provide an extremely valuable role to store the excess carbon that we have put in the air. That is through increasing the organic matter content of those soils which have generally lost tremendous amounts of carbon over the years of intensive farming, but that could be reversed and those soils could hold and sequester even greater amounts of carbon than they had in the first place.
We must find ways to reward farmers for providing this service to society. We must find ways to preserve farm land from development and being paved over. Again, I suppose pavement is sort of a sequestration of carbon, but it does not work nearly as well as organic matter in the soil.
Agricultural land trusts may be a useful tool to use for all those problems. That is another possible solution for land preservation, for rewarding organic farming methods, and for giving young farmers affordable options to start farming. Those are all, of course, tied into energy questions.
Issue number four is that Canadian trade and energy agreements must be negotiated to serve Canadians instead of corporations. Corporations, as we know by definition have a mandate to maximize their profits and that is usually taken to mean short-term profits, and will usually mean pushing for free unregulated trade regardless of the expense to people and the environment. It is just the facts of life.
The principle of fair trade must replace that of free trade. Our economy cannot get off fossil fuels while we depend on exporting so much of them to the U.S.A. The NAFTA agreement must be changed to encourage conservation on both sides of the border.
Oil developments in the tar sands must at least be limited from expanding until it is determined if there are better ways to supply our energy needs.
Atlantic Canada has already begun to cooperate with the New England states to set goals for reducing fossil fuel emissions. New renewable energy sources must be used in creative strategies to get us all off those fossil fuels. For example, hydroelectric power, and in particular the Muskrat Falls that has been talked in Labrador, must be used to balance and to optimize wind power in a regional grid.
The fifth and final point is that of nuclear power, which is in the discussion paper, of course, but we disagree with the conclusions that are reached there. Nuclear plants, in our opinion, are unnecessary, they are unsafe, and they are uneconomical. The huge costs and risks involved are no solution and that takes resources away from safer solar solutions. Those solar solutions are advancing every day all over the world. Canadians can gain and build on an amazing variety of new solar energy projects that are happening all the time.
To repeat the issues I raised: 1) using less energy from all sources is a critical part of avoiding more economical and climate catastrophes; 2) young people must be included in these strategy planning discussions and decisions; 3) farming without fossil fuels is a challenge that must be faced; 4) Canadian trade and energy agreements must be negotiated to serve Canadians instead of corporations, and 5) nuclear power is unnecessary, unsafe and uneconomical.
With all those issues in mind I ask you, senators, to take the leadership on a Canadian sustainable energy strategy to a new level. Set an outstanding example for all Canadians of dedication to the this cause -- and it is a cause, it is really a shift of values that we are talking about -- by shifting the financial resources that you control to finding solutions for our energy climate crisis.
To conclude, I hope that our children will remember us for the beauty that we preserved, not for the money that we made.
I thank you for your attention and will take questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much
Senator Mitchell: Thank you, Mr. Reddin. That was very good. Sort of the other side things, and I think there is a really very powerful message in what you are saying.
Your point number four about farming techniques. I would like to just mention to you that in fact in Alberta, where we have a cap and almost kind of sort of trade program, somewhere between trading and offsets, which is the first done in North America. Not it is not good enough. It is intensity based. But nevertheless, it was implemented by Premier Stelmach’s government, and it is a step. Farmers there are actually producing sanctioned credits and selling them to the TransAlta in order for TransAlta to make its caps. I think there are 21 different methods by which farmers can capture carbon in a sanctioned way.
Mr. Reddin: Including organic matter in the soil.
Senator Mitchell: All that kind of stuff, yes. There are 14 ways, I think, for dealing with raising livestock, and there are seven ways of growing grains, or vice versa.
Which brings me to my question about carbon credits and markets. I believe that there is a place for them. I think that they assist us in finding the low hanging fruit. In fact, we could have made Kyoto, I use this just as an example, at $20 a tonne in the European markets for about $5 billion a year. That would not have bankrupted the Canadian economy despite what people say, the people who do not want to do this. All that money, if we did it here, could go to farmers and businesses. Anyway, I have gone on.
What do you think about carbon markets, carbon credits, that kind of thing?
Mr. Reddin: I agree with you. It is the sensible way to fund the energy efficiency and other programs to get us off fossil fuels. It is going to happen eventually because they will get more and more expensive. It is another way to do it much less painfully.
Senator Mitchell: You touched on an answer to this question, but I would like you to elaborate a bit more. I have often said this, and I know my colleagues will be tired of it, but I will say it again. It is not that we need more technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What we need is a need technology to convince people that they have to do it. You were alluding to educating children, Katimavik, for example. I think you said funding for school. That is really part of the difficulty here. It is a culture change it is also convincing the public that votes for governments that do not feel like they have enough leeway political credit to do what they have to do. You see it in the most basic, simple of environmental construction of a wind mill, of a wind turbine. That people would resist that and make up, I would argue, make up health problems and so on, it is incomprehensible.
Mr. Reddin: To address that example, I think it is Denmark -- and Kirk may be able to add to this -- where the wind development that they have done has been very community-based. Is it Germany or Denmark?
Kirk Brown, Member, Energy Project Advisory Committee, Environmental Coalition of Prince Edward Island (ECO-PEI): Denmark.
Mr. Reddin: There has been very little public opposition to it because people were part of the decision making, and the setbacks were properly put in. I think, an important part of it is to involve people in the decisions.
You are right, it is not easy. It is a challenge, but that’s no reason not to do it.
Senator Mitchell: No, exactly. I think that it is not just lobbying governments; it is lobbying people because we need to get the best in.
Senator McCoy: Thank you, Mr. Reddin, for a concise and very clearly articulated presentation.
You were here earlier when I was asking somebody to sort of quickly perhaps address the environmental impacts of the large scale hydro development. It strikes me you would have some opinions on that that I think we should put on the record. If you would be able to, I would invite you to do so.
Mr. Reddin: It is not something I claim to have expertise or much involvement with studying. The main issue with hydroelectric dams is of course the large land mass that is taken and in effect destroyed, put under water. I mean that is one. There is always a question of how long is that dam actually going to work. You know it will eventually fill with silt depending on the design and such. The other is, of course, the major financial investment in it that it has to be part of a consideration, is that the best choice for putting that money in or would energy efficiency solve the same issues and the same things that we are trying to deal with for less investment. In other words we could perhaps do more with energy efficiency and conservation programs than by putting it all in one big project.
Of course, there are other issues, obviously, of just whose land is it that is being used, and are there better uses for that land than putting it under water, and other issues around transmission corridors and, again, large land use for that. Even the total energy input to build a dam has to be looked at very closely because it is such a big project that a tremendous amount of energy has to go in to have that put in place in the first place.
Kirk could probably add some more educated...
Mr. Brown: Another important aspect of it is the ability of dams and water behind the dam to act as a battery. It tends to compensate for wind energy. It comes when it is blowing, but it is not... It becomes a battery, in effect. I have been trying to get the province here to do something with dams in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick for quite a while, and talking about it anyway. You do have to take a good look at the situation. Sometimes it does work, sometimes it does not work. It depends on the situation.
Senator McCoy: I think one of the themes I hear you alluding to at least is sort of almost a systemic approach to an analysis as to how much do we need, what is the best way to get it, and are we doing those comparisons across a number of platforms. I am hearing those sorts of considerations pushing your comments. Am I correct in detecting that?
Mr. Reddin: Oh yes, to me it is not just a matter of how are we going to supply ourselves with energy, it is how is our society going to run. We can see the crisis happening now. We are lucky in Canada to be protected from it, so far. Not just in terms of the climate events, but of course those are obvious, and we are suffering those. Also the consequences for people who do not have the resources to protect themselves, and obviously overseas on other countries there is severe pain being suffered. Yes, it is something that we have to decide. How is our society going to run? A big part of it is using resources that we should not really claim. They should be left there for future generations.
Senator McCoy: It is a choice.
Those are my questions. I have another comment, but I will just give it to you offline. I am not here to give evidence, you are.
Senator Brown: I have listened with interest to your presentation, Mr. Reddin. I know you have given an awful lot of problems but not too many solutions, yet I will talk to you about one thing, farming costs, because I know a little bit about them having been in the business for about 50 years.
We just talked about farming is non-unionized. The costs that go up to farming can only be solved by larger farms. That is the only way. I will just give you one example of combines. When I was a teenager my father bought a couple of used combines. I think one cost $800 and the other one cost $500. He spent a lot of time fixing them. I spent a lot of time driving them and taking them back to get fixed. When I got out of college the first combine I bought was two years old and it cost me $38,000. A new one would have been $58,000. When I left farming 10 years ago I had bought a combine that was a little over $200,000, but only had one straight cut header. The other pick up header would have been another $50,000. I am now on an advisory committee ultimately to the ministry and Mr. Harper in terms of the costs now for farmers. I polled my neighbours just a couple of months before Christmas and asked them what the costs were now. I was a little bit surprised even then. It is about $450,000 for a John Deere combine, but then when you add a couple of pickups, one pickup header and one straight cut header, you are over half a million dollars. This is a consequence of having unionized labour that is able to raise their cost every time they deal with the factory. The same thing happened with cars. I am sure you are more aware of the price of cars over the years than you are with farm machinery. I will tell you right now that organic farming is far more expensive food when it is put on the shelf, and it comes from very small farms with great big intensive labour. If you can give me the answer to that problem of farming I would very much appreciate it.
Mr. Reddin: I wish I could. I can hear what you are saying, and it amazes me. Someone was telling me not too long ago about selling Cub Massey Harris, is it?
Senator Brown: International and John Deere are about --
Mr. Reddin: Have I got the right brand? International, I think it was, $3,000 or $4,000. It was in Newfoundland. I said you would not sell many tractors in Newfoundland. He said, “These little Cubs are 20 horsepower or whatever. We would sell 40 or 50 of them.” There just are not that many farmers in Newfoundland, but there were at that time not that long ago.
It is something that is certainly we have come to the point where it is really hard to have a farm that is not huge. P.E.I., of course, the farms here are tiny compared to what you are talking about in the Prairies. It is the same situation potato farms here are tending toward really big farms to make a go of it.
Energy costs are going to make that even harder now as fuel oil goes up, but that is another reason to tackle this problem of how are we going to farm with a lot less fossil fuels. Right now it is hard to see any way of doing that. How would you run those combines?
Senator Brown: We could do it with LNG, but even LNG when you start converting costs $100,000 for an engine.
Mr. Reddin: Generally, one would suppose an electric motor is a much better use of energy than fossil fuels. You do not waste nearly as much heat.
Senator Brown: Yes, that is right, but it is hard to get an extension cord that goes five or six miles. It is really tough.
Mr. Reddin: That is the battery. Like a hybrid car or whatever. I could see that happening. I am surprised it is not. I do not know. You would know better than I about electric.
Senator McCoy: There is something about life cycle conversion rates in making electricity. If you do that entire analysis, electricity is not necessarily a good source for either space heating or mobility. It might be tidy, but I think there is more thinking to be done.
Mr. Reddin: For sure.
Senator McCoy: I am pretty sure it is not the panacea that it is being touted.
Mr. Reddin: It is going to take a lot of creative thought, and that is why we have to start now and do more and more of it.
Did you want to talk about it?
Mr. Brown: No, I do not think so. I started on a farm when I was 14. The best summer job I ever had. I enjoyed farming. I really find that farmers now, apparently on average are 60 years old in our province.
Senator Brown: Actually they are quite a bit old, I think, elsewhere.
Mr. Brown: Are they older than that elsewhere?
Senator Brown: I think Senator Peterson will back me up when I say they are closer to 70 years old.
Mr. Brown: It is hard to say where the food is going to come from then unless we have commercial farming, and yet other sources say that it is most efficient to have smaller farms in some respects.
Senator Peterson: Mr. Reddin, you made a comment that nuclear plants are unsafe. I was just wondering if you had any examples say over the past 40 years of this?
Mr. Reddin: The cycle for nuclear power, first of all, mining uranium and the tailings for that are a health hazard. The plant itself emits routinely large amounts of tritium, which is a health hazard. Assuming that you get a useful life out of it, you then have to deal with all of the radioactive material that is left. That is, again, another legacy for our great, great, great grandchildren.
Senator Peterson: You can state those things you do not like. Maybe that is how you should phrase it. But to safe it is not safe I do not think is really fair because we were checking, and nothing has happened. When they are reconditioned they have all set aside millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars to recondition them. It is just a matter of getting it in the right context, rather than going around saying they are unsafe and it is dangerous. Driving a car is far more dangerous.
Mr. Reddin: It is an accident either with radioactive tailings from mining or with the plant itself. It is such a unthinkable catastrophe that it is on a different scale. When you drive a car there is a certain element of your choice, where if a nuclear power plant is there you are not choosing to have it be put there. There are plenty of other elements. If you like I can provide more information about what my arguments are. I would be happy to pass that on.