Alberta climate change plan changing the perception of oilsands
Andrew Leach, the plan's lead author, says it's all part of a changing dialogue globally on greenhouse gas policy
CALGARY—The lead architect of Alberta’s climate change plan says that despite some opposition, the initiative is helping shift the debate on the province’s biggest resource.
“I think you’ve seen a very different framing of the oilsands nationally and internationally,” said Andrew Leach, who led Alberta’s climate change advisory panel.
It’s all part of a changing dialogue globally on greenhouse gas policy, he said in a recent interview, pointing to the Paris climate accord and a Canada-U.S. agreement on methane reductions.
“It’s moved a long way just over the past year, and I think our work is part of that, and I think a lot of other people have played a role as well, but I think the conversation has moved a long way,” said Leach.
Nonetheless, Leach says, Alberta’s action on climate change isn’t going to suddenly open up export routes for oilsands crude.
“What I don’t think anyone should have expected was that the carbon pricing question was the only thing affecting oilsands development,” said Leach. “The spill risk view, whether accurate or not, is still a perceived risk to people and it’s not going to change with carbon pricing in Alberta.”
He says the 100 megatonne cap on oilsands emissions set by the province’s NDP government, while not part of his recommendations, sends the right signal.
“It creates the tension in the system to say, look, if we want to grow barrels, we need to improve technology, and that’s the signal the world markets are sending anyway. For Alberta oilsands to grow, it has to lower its input costs and lower its environmental footprint,” said Leach.
Since completing the report, Leach no longer has an official role on the provincial climate change file, but he’s been busy giving talks and sending out many thousands of tweets in defence of the plan.
He says he’s been frustrated by the critics who don’t consider the implications of alternative options, while the biggest misconceptions in the plan come from the electricity side because there are so many moving parts.
In recent weeks, there have been numerous reports about how Alberta’s climate change plan is making coal-fired power plants unprofitable and also that the plan will lead to skyrocketing electricity rates.
Leach says that he expects the plan to add about $12 to $13 in costs per megawatt hour for coal plants.
“If you think that power prices are going to triple, then you’re not going to exit the market to avoid 12-dollar costs,” said Leach. “You can’t have high prices for one argument and low prices for the purposes of another.”
Leach says he’ll be looking to next week’s provincial budget to see details on the climate change plan, especially how the NDP government plans to manage the proceeds of the carbon pricing.
“The structure of the consumer credit is a really important one that they’re going to need to define, how they’re going to cut against the regressive elements of a carbon price,” said Leach.