By Ian Harvey Principal Curator
Depending on your crystal ball reaching Net Zero by 2050 is either the Holy Grail or a complete nightmare.
The concept that transportation, manufacturing, construction and life generally will produce zero carbon emissions or at least negligible emissions in less than 30 years is a vaulted promise which has become politicized to the point of overlooking the basic realities, say critics like former banker and now energy sector analyst Parker Gallant.
The fatal flaw in the equation is that there’s no plan for where the energy to replace fossil fuels will come from other than vague claims of wind and solar which are almost useless without robust storage and, at this stage, affordable, compact and high energy density batteries just don’t exist other than the laboratory.
More than that, it all ignores the irrefutable laws of supply and demand.
As it stands the Ontario grid alone cannot meet the demand for electricity if all those political promises of 100% EVs and heating and cooling were to materialize, Gallant says, requiring massive investments in infrastructure over the next 30 years, money which has never been budgeted.
Paul de Berardis, director of building science and innovation at industry group the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCO) says just recently Toronto Council accelerated its net zero plan to 2040 which means all new building will have to have new recharging outlets, with interior electrical heating and cooling and water heating on electric.
He says this puts pressure on Toronto Hydro to deliver the power required when all those devices come online as mandated.
“Toronto Hydro is forecasting that there will be a double to three time more demand for electricity in the next 10 years and in order to meet that demand they will need about $10 billion in upgrades, all of which are unfunded at this time.”
Someone, he says, will have to come up with that money but more disconcerting is that the IESO Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) https://www.ieso.ca the agency responsible for managing the power system and planning for the province’s future energy needs projects it will cost $27 billion to meet the political direction being imposed with a resulting 60 per cent increase in electricity rates.
While energy has long been a political football in Ontario, Gallant, a regular contributor to the Financial Post, says recent political decisions have taken that to a new level.
The City of Ottawa has also jumped on the bandwagon, he says, with a plan projected to cost $57.4 billion by 2050.
“To put that in perspective those investments are 14.5 times the City’s current annual budget of $3.94 billion,” he says noting the construction opportunity is as massive as the cost, but the pay back is going to hit consumers hard.
“The proposal to have 1060 MW of solar panels (40 per cent of what Ontario currently has) and 3,218 MW of wind turbines (60 per cent of what Ontario has currently) to supply Ottawa with the power needed to achieve net-zero by 2050 is a dream Ontarians have already suffered though,” he said referring to the Green Energy Act which has seen rates triple. “Residents in Ottawa should get ready for electricity prices to more than double every 10 years.”
On the energy generation side, IESO says 20 per cent of the doubling of demand will be driven by EV take up starting in the early 2030s.
However, politicization of energy production further complicates things, says de Berardis, with the IESO, prodded by lobby groups, looking at phasing out natural gas which produces about 10 per cent of Ontario electricity.
This seems inconsistent with the lessons learned in Europe where Germany and Italy import nearly half their natural gas from Russia which has funded Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In fact, even the federal government is backpedaling on its strategy to limit natural gas as a result of Europe’s energy crisis and is now looking at fast tracking LNG pipelines and shipping terminals on the east coast to supply Europe.
Yet strangely, lobby groups like Clean Air Ontario Alliance has convinced 32 municipalities to pressure the provincial government to phase out electricity generation and rely more on wind and solar, neither of which have ever consistently produced anywhere near the power output they promised and likely never will.
The only thing which saves us from black outs are the natural gas generating plants which back up wind and solar and then sit idle when those sources actually do produce enough energy on a good day.
Incidentally, about 96% of electricity in Ontario is produced from zero-carbon emitting sources: 60% from nuclear, 26% from hydroelectricity, 7% from wind, and 2% from solar. The remainder is primarily from natural gas, with some biomass.
Given its role in supporting wind and solar, the question remains why LNG is being harshly treated with carbon taxes and CFS levies when the European experience shows it’s a beneficial transitionary energy over coal.
“In Europe with the energy crisis they’ve had to turn to reopening coal plants,” de Berardis says, noting they’d be frozen without natural gas which in Germany is being supplied by an increasing hostile Russia. “Even in Britain which has a less cold climate than say Canada they are turning to wood stoves for heating when it is cold because their heat pumps can’t keep up.”
Further, those carbon taxes and the CFS are helping drive inflation which has become more acute with the war in Ukraine, pushing up the price of all goods, service and food.
So, sacred cows like affordable housing? Just got more expensive.
“Carbon tax alone adds $2 or $3 per m3 to the cost of concrete and we’re pumping hundreds of thousands of cubic metres a year,” says de Berardis.
Steel is another massive consumer of energy and while the Canadian Steel Producers Association is also pledging to be net zero, it will need government support such as the $400 million from the federal government and $500 million donated by the Ontario government to build a new blast furnace to make new steel at ArcelorMittal Dofasco’s (AMD) Hamilton steel plant. The plan is to use Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) feedstock to cut three million tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2028 when it is operational.
Again, however, it needs natural gas as a transitionary fuel.
The $1.7 billion upgrade will remove 60 per cent of emissions from the plant replacing metallurgical coke with natural gas. Eventually, AMD will convert to another fuel such as hydrogen or electricity when it is feasible and globally there are pilot projects underway investigating those options.
But those are just two components essential to our economy. Then there’s the looming battle for metals and minerals like copper, iron ore, cobalt, nickel and lithium.
China controls 90% of the rare earth minerals needed EVs. Canada has those resources but needs to develop infrastructure and mines to extract them but inevitably environmentalist will slow any approvals and construction process.
Meanwhile The soaring prices of the metals and minerals used in EV manufacturing and charging stations reflect the growing demand as government deadlines for phasing out new fossil fuel vehicles loom and the limited supply.
Brendan Marshall, Mining Association of Canada’s VP of Economic and Northern Affairs says EVs require three time more copper than comparable combustion cars.
“This is a second industrial revolution with a scale which requires development and redesign of how we move everything,” he says. “In Canada we have all these minerals and metals, and we can compete with the world. We also have the cleanest grids on the planet.”
It all adds up to a massive logistical headache. Politicians want to virtue signal but have no grasp of the realities involved and the ultimate cost.
And to what effect? Passenger cars are 6% of Canada’s emissions which are 1.5% of global emissions. EVs are unaffordable, impractical and lose resale value faster but the federal government is going to force people to buy them without considering the ripple effect.
For one, only higher income families can afford them and they’re really only viable if you have a house with a driveway and a 200-amp service for a rapid charger. If you have an apartment or a condo or street parking, you’re probably out of luck and have to line up to use a charger which may take up to three hours to complete.
Politicians forcing Net Zero without a road map is destined to be disruptive and disastrous for the economy and our communities.
Versions of this article have been published at ConstructConnect.com and thebramptonist.com