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Tory budget 'walks away' from renewable energy, environmentalist says

An EnCana pump jack pumps oil out of the ground near Rockyford, Alberta, June 30, 2009. EnCana is one of Canada's largest energy producers. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA BUSINESS ENERGY)

TODD KOROL/TODD KOROL/REUTERS

The new federal budget is titled "Leading the Way on Jobs and Growth," but environmentalists say it fails badly when it comes to creating new employment in fields that deliver energy from renewable sources like sun, wind and water.

Even before the new fiscal plan was released last week, the U.S. federal government was outspending Ottawa by a per-capita ratio of 14 to 1 on the technologies that many believe will be the energy sources of future generations.

In Canada, a four-year, $1.43-billion ecoEnergy program, introduced in 2007, provided money to companies for the development of new clean-energy sources. But that expires in 2011 and the new budget offered nothing to replace it.

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Nor was cash injected into a depleted fund at Sustainable Development Technology Canada that had been used to transform research on renewable energy into commercially viable projects.

As a result, said Tim Weis, the director of renewable energy and efficiency at the Pembina Institute, the budget has widened the gap between what is spent federally in the United States and Canada to 17.8 to 1 - again on a per capita basis.

"This isn't boutique technology that we're talking about any more," said Mr. Weis, whose comparison of the Canadian and American spending will be released publicly today.

"Spain last year had 40 per cent of its entire country running on the wind when it was a windy day. Texas, just last week, had 20 per cent of the state running on the wind. That's the equivalent of an entire province's provincial power grid running on wind."

Most provinces have developed their own programs to develop renewable energy. Ontario is arguably the North American leader in this area.

But the federal government in this country "with this budget, more or less, walks away from the serious development of these technologies in Canada," said Mr. Weis.

When the Canadian government put money into environmental initiatives to stimulate the flagging economy, it focused on capturing the carbon emissions from the oil and gas industries and building "green" infrastructure like hydro transmission lines, landfills and sewage systems.

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Other governments around the world, meanwhile, channelled their investments into the commercial development of renewable energy technologies. For some of them, this was not a new venture.

In May, 2006, officials representing the German government approached Ian MacLellan, the founder and vice-chairman of Arise Technologies of Kitchener, Ont., a company that had developed photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight to electricity.

Over a couple of beers, they made him an offer. If Arise would open a plant in Germany, the German government would pay 50 per cent of the startup costs. "So we went off and we built a facility in Germany and we are very busy in Germany right now," said Mr. MacLellan.

At last count, he said, the Germans have created 280,000 jobs in renewable energy. "Their long-term view is that renewable energy is going to create more jobs in Germany than the automotive industry."

It would be unfair to say that Arise got no help from Canada, said Mr. MacLellan. Both the Ontario and federal governments helped pay for research and development.

But, in terms of turning that research cash into a money-making proposition, "I think this is where Canada needs a lot of work," he said.

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When asked about the ending of the ecoEnergy program, Environment Minister Jim Prentice said Canada has one of the cleanest energy systems of any industrial democracy.

"Seventy-three per cent of Canada's system emits no [greenhouse gases]whatsoever," Mr. Prentice told reporters. "We'll continue to improve on that … We'll do it by way of regulation rather than by way of specific subsidies."

But critics say Canada is dropping the ball.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said the government is still spending heavily on nuclear energy, as it tries to sell Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., and is still investing in carbon capture and storage, which she said is "a disguised subsidy to the tar sands." But, said Ms. May, Canada loses jobs, "every time a Harper budget comes out that does nothing for renewables."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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