By Dave Wilkin and Tim Lutton
The recent Liberal government call for net-zero carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions by 2050 sets a new high-water mark for unrealistic Canadian emissions targets. Most people have no idea what it would entail, as the government doesn’t say how they will reach it or at what cost. This is what prompted us to translate this latest goal into tangible costs that people can understand.
We often hear claims that shifting to a ‘new green economy’, including wind and solar power, will create millions of new jobs, growing Canada’s economy.
Let’s be clear: the energy transition implied here is not an investment in the traditional sense. Instead, it is a cost to replace the existing mature energy system that built the modern economies but releases CO₂ and is finite, with a new, low-carbon, more costly unproven system.
It is unlikely to create significant net-new jobs or significant new economic value, as it simply replaces what already exists. The transition jobs created will be mostly construction related, as most of the equipment and systems required are manufactured outside of Canada, especially if the focus remains wind or solar, not nuclear (or hydro) power. Most of the new permanent jobs (operational) will be public-sector utility jobs, replacing the private sector ones today, and won’t offset today’s 533,000 oil & gas supported jobs that would largely disappear.
Our table below shows the system capital costs, by power source, to replace about 90 per cent of Canadian carbon-based energy by 2050. Our analysis was inspired by a recent article in Forbes, where the author calculated reaching net–zero CO₂ emissions globally by 2050 would require building one 1000 MW nuclear power station every single day until 2050.
These are the new system costs only; excluded are these (collectively enormous) costs:
- $130 billion annual export revenue, $14 billion in tax revenue (2018) from oil and gas largely gone.
- All public/business costs and government subsidies for transport, furnaces, appliances, electrical upgrades necessary to switch to electric power.
- Carbon capture and storage costs to offset the remaining carbon energy emissions.
- CO₂ elimination from growing non-combustion sources (e.g. about 10 per cent of global CO₂ emission from concrete, steel, plastics manufacturing).
- Unknown costs to address power grid security, stability and unproven Gigawatt-scale battery storage (required for the wind and solar solutions). Global wind/solar power leader Germany (still 80 per cent carbon-energy economy) is already facing significant power grid stability and unexpected cost issues.
- Replacement of aging infrastructure (e.g. nuclear, hydro power stations, power grid).
- Transition-driven energy demand spikes, inflation, future technology cost and Power Capacity factor changes (wind, solar, nuclear).
We would need to build 2.3 large (e.g. 3500 MW Darlington-class) nuclear power stations every year for 30 years. If large (350 MW) wind or solar farms were used, that rises to a staggering 82 or 129 power stations respectively per year being required under a net-zero carbon dioxide (CO₂) emission scenario. For comparison, 0.57 GW of wind power was installed in 2018, less than two per cent of the annual power that would be required. In tangible terms, the costs equate to approximately between $6,000 to $14,000 every year for each Canadian household for 30 years. Stated in debt terms, that’s between 12 oer cent to 27 per cent of Canada’s total federal debt ($770 billion) added each year!
Now consider the physical areas required by the various power generation sources. The required massive solar and wind farms won’t be built in urban areas, nor in remote northern areas (it’s too expensive to build long massive high-voltage transmission lines). They will be built in rural areas closer to the population centres, just like the McGuinty/Wynne-era windfarms over the past 15 years. By 2050 if (medium-density) wind farms were used exclusively to provide the replacement energy to Southern Ontario, they would cover 120 per cent of its area! If all solar power is used, it’s about 11 per cent.
Clearly, as noted in our previous articles, all forms of energy will be required for the foreseeable future, meaning energy from oil and gas, hydro, nuclear, wind, and solar. The Trudeau Government should present the real costs, impacts and trade-offs implied to reach their aggressive target, so informed and realistic planning can finally begin. Keeping the public in the dark, or worse, leads nowhere. Fighting over a small carbon tax is the least of our challenges. Far tougher decisions and their related costs lie ahead.
Dave Wilkin, P. Eng. M. Eng. (electrical engineering) worked at IBM, Scotiabank, Ontario Hydro, and several consulting firms over 45 years. Tim Lutton, MBA, worked in the natural gas and LNG industry for 32 years; with Imperial Oil in Canada, and ExxonMobil in the USA, Australia and Qatar. Both are Huntsville residents.
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