North American clean energy pledge prompts talk of more Canadian hydro exports

OTTAWA – A new continental target for clean electricity generation could open the door for greater Canadian hydro exports to the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.

More work needs to be done on setting common standards and building transmission grids, but the promise to have fully half of Canada, the United States and Mexico’s common electricity come from non-emitting sources by 2025 should be good news to governments in British Columbia and Newfoundland.

Both those provinces are in the process of building multi-billion-dollar hydro projects that have been heavily criticized because there’s no immediate market for all the electricity they’ll bring online.

At a lengthy news conference marking the end of the one-day North American Leaders’ Summit, Trudeau gave a subtle nod toward completing B.C.’s Site C dam on the Peace River and Labrador’s Muskrat Falls power project.

“Certainly the agreement we’ve concluded today values our shift towards cleaner, renewable energy,” Trudeau said when asked if increased electricity exports are in the offing.

“Canada has a tremendous amount of energy that comes from clean sources right now and we’re always looking to create more.”

U.S. President Barack Obama also waded in to respond, saying the respective national governments have set a goal and are co-ordinating and synchronizing best practices, with each country deploying its own best energy mix.

“Some of it is going to be determined by how well we can integrate the grid and transmission of power,” said Obama.

“So there may be some wonderful hydroelectric power that we’d like to get to the United States. The question is, are there enough transmission facilities for us to buy it at a competitive price?”

The climate and energy promises among Mexico, Canada and the U.S. formed the centrepiece of the colloquially named “Three Amigos” summit and won widespread plaudits Wednesday from electricity producers and environmental groups.

A new trilateral accord pledges to cut methane emissions 40 to 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025 for all three countries, with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto joining the deal announced by Trudeau and Obama in March.

Fully one fifth of all man-made global warming to date is attributable to methane emissions, according to the Pembina Institute, and a fifth of global methane emissions come from North America.

“This continental initiative could inspire other oil and gas-producing countries to follow suit, leading to globally significant reductions in emissions that cause climate change,” Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence said in a release.

The leaders agreed their governments will purchase cleaner vehicle fleets and encourage public and private investment in continental electric power “refuelling corridors.”

They also pledged to reduce black carbon, a short-lived pollutant linked to health problems and climate change.

But it will be the electricity export opportunities that could have Canada’s provinces sitting up and taking notice.

The official leaders’ statement from the summit announced a joint study on adding more renewable energy to the grid “on a North American basis.”

And it made specific reference to cross-border transmission projects, including the Great Northern Transmission line, which will carry Manitoba hydro into Minnesota, and the New England Clean Power Link, which will hook up to Quebec hydro.

“Canadian electricity is North America’s clean energy solution,” said Sergio Marchi, president of the Canadian Electricity Association.

Jacob Irving of the Canadian Hydropower Association said the trilateral agreement “illustrates how exporting some of that potential is good for Canada and North America, both environmentally and economically.

The subject of oil pipelines, a frequent friction point between Canada and the United States, was not mentioned by any of the leaders Wednesday.

Environmental Defence noted that the leaders said fossil fuel subsidies wouldn’t be fully phased out until 2025, a date the environmental group said is too far off.

The Liberals promised in their election platform last fall to phase out oil and gas subsidies “in the medium term,” but failed to move on the issue in their first budget this spring.

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