How can we foster a more sustainable electricity system?
For nearly a century, the electricity industry has delivered reliable and affordable electricity to Canadians. Going forward, Canadians expect industry to deliver these essential attributes, while also becoming more sustainable – that is, balancing the environmental, social and economic impacts of the system. The electricity industry holds a vast amount of potential to contribute to a more sustainable energy future; however, in order to fully deliver on these expectations, significant investment in our electricity infrastructure is required.
- Today’s electricity system in Canada is world-class. The bulk of Canada’s electricity generation comes from hydropower, and approximately 75 per cent of our electricity generation comes from sources, like hydro and nuclear, that emit virtually no greenhouse gases associated with climate change. And average residential and industrial electricity prices in Canadian cities were 11.6 cents and 8.9 cents per kilo-watt-hour (kWh), 1 respectively, ranking Canada’s prices among the lowest in the world. The industry also directly contributes to Canada’s economy and communities by providing jobs and tax benefits. The sector employs more than 94,000 Canadians from coast to coast to coast, 2 and in 2007 it contributed more than $1.5 billion in tax revenues to federal, provincial, and municipal budgets. 3
- However, Canada’s electricity infrastructure is ageing, and significant investment is required to renew and replace existing assets and meet Canada’s future electricity needs and sustainability objectives. Investment in Canada’s electricity infrastructure will allow for the replacement of higher-emitting, less efficient generation with non and low-emitting generation technologies. It will make possible the growth of our already vast transmission networks, providing new generation with access to the grid. It will enable penetration of smart grid and distributed generation technologies, increasing system efficiency and providing customers with the ability to make more informed decisions about their power use based on the time of day and electricity price and source. These investments will allow for job creation and the continued growth of Canada’s economy while fostering improvements to our environment and society.
- While investment in the electricity system will bring numerous benefits, sustainability is ultimately about balance. Important tradeoffs exist between achieving sustainability objectives, and these must be identified, balanced and managed. Investments to enable a more efficient and lower emitting electricity system will not occur without a cost to electricity consumers, and must be balanced against impacts on electric reliability. Impacts of new investments on biodiversity and water resources must be taken into account. Aboriginal and local communities must be informed, consulted and engaged regarding the impacts and benefits of new electricity infrastructure projects. Achieving a sustainable electricity system requires a balance between environmental improvements, economic impacts, and societal costs and benefits.
- Canada’s electricity industry is already taking important steps towards fostering a more sustainable electricity system. In 1997, the electricity industry was one of the first industry sectors to establish an environmental stewardship initiative and commit to implementing ISO 14001 or equivalent Environmental Management Systems. In 2009, the sector established the CEA Sustainable Electricity program, a fully-fledged sustainability initiative that recognizes the intrinsic link between the environment, society and the economy. The program requires a commitment to continuous improvement and reporting on sustainability performance on an annual basis. This is just the start of a long-term transformation towards a more sustainable electricity system. We are committed to working with stakeholders to ensure a reliable, affordable, and sustainable electricity system in the decades to come.
- Hydro Quebec, Comparison of Electricity Prices in Major North American Cities, 2010
- Electricity Sector Council
- Statistics Canada, Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution, 2009