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Net zero hope

03 Jun 2020 | OP ED Watch

Rex Murphy’s latest National Post cri de cœur on behalf of his home province falls on the same deaf ears he denounces. Newfoundland faces a fiscal as well as a health crisis and its premier just begged Ottawa for help for the crumbling offshore oil industry that, scant decades ago, was meant to save it from have-not status, reverse the population outflow and restore its dignity. And Ottawa said well, if you stop emitting carbon by 2050 we might. As in drop dead and float away. Newfoundland won’t have any difficulty eliminating its carbon emissions by 2050, its challenge will be still having some by 2030.

In Murphy’s inimitably colourful summary, “At the rate things are going in Newfoundland (on Friday, Standard and Poor’s downgraded the province’s credit rating from stable to negative), with all major projects cancelled or on hold, with deficit and debts at historic levels, with the outports dying, business in lockdown, the tourist industry heading for its worst year in decades, restaurants closed or abandoned, unemployment at a record level … it’s not net carbon emissions going to zero in 2050 that Newfoundland’s minister should be fantasizing over. Here’s something to chew on: Newfoundland itself might not be around in 2050. There might not be a province to emit the d*mn emissions.” (No, we don’t print vulgarities in our newsletter, not even his. And a reminder: If you use them in commenting on our blog posts or videos we delete the comments.)

Adding insult to injury, Murphy notes that “Seamus O’Regan, Newfoundland’s minister in the federal cabinet (wherever it is these days, and whatever it is doing)” responded to the premier’s plea with an email saying the province would get $75 million “to reduce its carbon emissions”. Which can of course be accomplished free, simply by letting its oil industry collapse. Come what may.

What may come will not be pretty. Wikipedia has an article on Newfoundland’s demographics that tells you everything from the population of its towns and cities to how many people have “Niger-Congo languages” as their mother tongue. But it says nothing about the age profile that is surely crucial to a province with a sagging economy and grievous fiscal problems, namely that one-fifth of residents are over 65. Even from the point of view of government, who’s going to pay all the taxes if the young people leave or can’t find work?

After reviewing the cold federal response to Alberta’s troubles, Murphy adds “Premier Ball should by now have realized a simple fact, proven by its policies: Ottawa does not like the oil industry…. In the lineup at the cashier’s window, Premier Ball should just face it. Newfoundland is last in line and will likely never make it to the wicket.” We trust the oil industry is getting the point too, and will soon abandon the strategy of feeding promises to the crocodile in hopes it won’t eat the speaker as well. It will.

Meanwhile we wish we could get the Prime Minister and his like-minded colleagues to realize that… well, that Parliament matters. And much else besides. And that it won’t do just to keep making empty speeches about the clean exciting high-tech energy-of-the-future jobs meant to replace dirty old oil. So far it’s not going well including one story out of Nova Scotia about the province writing off $48 million it blew, so to speak, on a massive wind tower plant. No power, no jobs.

And over in Australia, zealots are telling heavy industry concerned about power prices not to worry, you can smelt aluminium using wind and solar power that can also “replace petrol for transport”. But what if you can’t? The Australian story seems to pit professors against producers and, as usual, journalists think the people who never smelted an ingot are far more knowledgeable than the ones who’ve been making a living at it for decades. (Perhaps the media can be powered by wind… but we digress.)

In Newfoundland, in Alberta and in Ottawa the rubber is hitting the road as the economy tumbles. We need power or our civilization is in trouble, never mind your balance sheet. Does nobody get it?

5 comments on “Net zero hope”

  1. It's pretty obvious that wind is too unreliable to provide a baseload of power into any grid system. A comment like 'Wind is the power of the future, and always will be.' must surely be made tounge in cheek?

  2. The Australian geologist Ian Plimer has much to say about the production of metals & 'green energy' in his book 'Not for Greens' He examines the production of a stainless steel teaspoon & looks at producing it with wind & solar. It can't be done. Aluminium has the property of being able to be extracted from its ore electrically but most other metals require carbon for heating & reduction. Imagine an aluminium plant when the wind drops or the sun doesn't shine!

  3. The Liberal Party of Canada only cares about itself and staying in power, certainly not for the welfare of Canadians. I don't want to be mean-spirited, but doesn't Atlantic Canada mainly elect Liberal Members of Parliament. Anyway, I am 100% in support of Newfoundland and its people.

  4. I was discussing this with a mate who is a controller for a major coal fired power plant. He said that the Aluminium smelter draws down so much power that that it is off grid with a dedicated high voltage supply. They stay in close communication so that they can bring more generators on line as needed. This is in contrast with 'renewables' as the controller needs to be aware of the interaction between weather and supply and demand. Of course, coal fired plants have a commitment to supplying baseload power. Renewables have no such commitment.

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