The Alberta government has quietly presented a proposal to sharply increase levies on carbon production and force large oil-industry producers to slash greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 40 per cent on each barrel of production, a long-term plan that has surprised Ottawa and industry executives with its ambition.
Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen stunned a recent meeting in Calgary attended by senior oil executives and her federal counterpart, Peter Kent, with the proposal, which goes well beyond anything Ottawa or the companies contemplated, industry and government sources said Wednesday. The three sides are engaged in intense negotiations, with the industry warning that regulations that are too onerous could undermine the competitiveness of the oil sands sector as it seeks international investment to drive production growth.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford will return to Washington next week as part of a federal-provincial-industry effort to lobby the Obama administration to approve TransCanada Corp.’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline proposal.
She and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are under considerable pressure to introduce regulations for the oil industry to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Opponents of Keystone XL in the United States point to the oil sands sector as one of the most carbon-intensive sources of crude.
“One of the really important things right now is that both the province and the federal government recognize that there’s got to be some signals to Washington that environmental change is taking place in Canada,” said Bob Page, director of the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability at the University of Calgary.
“A larger part of the discussion around Keystone has been about greenhouse gas emissions” from the oil sands, said Clare Demerse, director of federal policy with the Pembina Institute. “This is clearly a sector that is under scrutiny right now, and the right answer to that scrutiny is to come out with credible regulations.”
Mr. Kent has promised draft regulations soon, but the federal Conservatives are reluctant to introduce anything that could be construed as a carbon tax. Ottawa is likely to agree to an “equivalency” approach with Alberta and perhaps other provinces, in which the federal government would pass regulations that set levels of emission reductions while provinces are free to impose their own systems, so long as they match Ottawa’s ambition.
An Alberta regulation that took effect in 2007 required oil sands producers and other larger emitters in Alberta to reduce their per-barrel emissions by 12 per cent from a base year, and pay $15 into a provincially run technology fund for every tonne of emissions above their limit.
Ms. McQueen’s proposal would, over a period of time, require a 40-per-cent reduction in per-barrel emissions and a $40-per-tonne payment when the limit is exceeded. At that rate, the regulations would boost the cost per barrel by less than $2 for oil sands producers.
Sources stressed that the provincial cabinet has not yet approved Ms. McQueen’s proposals.
The Redford government has conceded it won’t meet its 2020 emission targets under current policies. Environmental groups warn that even if Ottawa agreed to Alberta’s 40/40 proposal, Canada would be on track to miss its commitment to reduce emissions 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.
In a report this week, the Pembina Institute urged governments to impose a levy of at least $100 per barrel for emissions above the targeted level.
“Getting these regulations right is critical for Canada’s climate credibility, and oil and gas is the litmus test for that,” Ms. Demerse said on Wednesday.
Mr. Kent’s spokesman, Rob Taylor, declined to comment, while Wayne Wood, a spokesman for Alberta’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, said it was “premature to speculate” on the targets the province is proposing.
Officials at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers also declined to comment, but industry sources called Ms. McQueen’s proposal a negotiating position rather than a hard demand. The industry is divided over the looming regulations, with some more willing to accept tougher rules than others. And many oil sands companies have already accounted for much higher carbon prices. Royal Dutch Shell PLC, for example, assumes a long-term carbon price of $40 per tonne.
But like many companies in Alberta, Shell has warned about the potential implications of raising the provincial levy. Asked in a recent interview whether the Anglo-Dutch giant would support a higher carbon price, its Canadian president, Lorraine Mitchelmore, said: “Alberta needs to be sure that it keeps the industry competitive.”
Ms. Mitchelmore praised the province’s existing greenhouse gas policy, which can feed a technology fund, as “a very, very nice package.” She said any discussion of changes needs to “look more holistically about the long-term development [of the oil sands]. We need to think about our cost structure, our competitiveness, but we also need to think about the environmental opportunity.”
Other senior energy figures have also warned about raising the carbon tax. “It’s a bad idea to make companies uncompetitive,” Rick George, who last year stepped down as chief executive of Suncor Energy Inc., said in a recent interview.
But oil sands firms are not the only ones that have raised competitiveness issues.
More strident opposition has come from oil refineries, including those in eastern Canada, which are a large source of emissions and have historically suffered from narrow margins. The natural gas industry, struggling against low prices, has also fought a big new carbon price, warning that it could put some businesses under.
The Alberta government has heard those complaints, the sources said, and is open to creating a regime that imposes different burdens on different industries, under the principle of “use the right tool in the right sector.”
Study Shows Energy-Efficient Homes Are 32% Less Risky for Lenders
Many have argued that energy efficiency reduces the risk of mortgage default. Now they have the data to prove it.
When Mike Baldwin built a home for his client in Maryland that was 40 percent more efficient than an average single-family residence, he figured it would command a better price in the market. He was wrong.
An appraiser valued it for $5,000 less than it was built for, saying it was "overbuilt" compared other homes in the area. So thousands of dollars came directly out of Baldwin's pocket.
"Builders aren't going to leap into this market unless energy-efficient homes are appraised differently," said Baldwin, who is president of Baldwin homes.
The problem is far bigger than the one appraiser who didn't value Baldwin's energy-efficient home. It's a systematic issue that goes back to what's valued within a mortgage itself. Even though efficiency retrofits reduce energy bills -- which can account for 15 percent of the cost of home ownership -- the lending industry doesn't factor them into a loan.
That's because the data on whether energy efficient homes truly reduce risk hasn't been clear -- until now.
"We found that Energy Star certification reduces default and payment risk. The more efficient the house, the less the risk is for prepayment and default," said Nikhil Kaza, a researcher at the University of North Carolina's Center for Community Capital.
Kazah was referring to an empirical study released yesterday by the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) comparing Energy Star-certified homes to standard homes. Energy Star is a federal standard for houses that are 30 percent more efficient than average homes. Kazah and his colleagues reviewed nearly 30,000 single-family Energy Star residences around the country and compared them to 71,000 conventional homes. The study controlled for size, homeowner income, loan type, employment, and credit score, ensuring that the profile of each category was similar.
They found that Energy Star homes were 32 percent less likely to go into default. And those findings, said Kaza, are at a 99.9 percent confidence level.
"We've been talking about this for a while, but now we have the data to back it up," said Cliff Majersik, executive director of IMT. "It's time now to fix mortgage underwriting guidelines to consider energy efficiency."
Indeed, the folks at IMT and others have been talking about factoring efficiency into mortgage standards for years. In 2011, the organization helped promote a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate called the SAVE Act that would instruct the Department of Housing and Urban Development to include energy use in new mortgage guidelines. Lenders factor in income, personal assets, and property value -- why not energy, which costs homeowners roughly $2,200 a year? If homeowners save on energy costs, argue the researchers, then they have more money to pay a mortgage.
There are lots of potential qualitative unknowns behind the data. Perhaps homeowners who care about efficiency are more fiscally responsible and are therefore more likely to repay their loan; maybe those living in energy efficient homes are happier and stay in their homes longer; or maybe education level plays a role.
Mike Frantantoni of the Mortgage Bankers Association agreed that there are inexplicable factors at play that could slightly "overstate" some of the findings. But the researchers made sure the control group was very similar to the Energy Star homes in almost every way.
"It looks like the people who are buying energy-efficient homes are similar to the ones who are not. [These factors] might change the result slightly, but it doesn't lead me to question it," said Frantantoni.
Those advocating for revised lending standards say it's time to include energy consumption. Action wouldn't come on the lending level, but at the federal level, where mortgage guidelines are created. That could spawn a culture shift that would reach all the way down to the appraisal level -- ensuring that builders like Mike Baldwin get fairly recognized for the efficient homes they're building.
"If we can somehow get a mortgage that encourages efficiency, Energy Star buildings will increase across the board," said Baldwin.
This is the first study of its kind to quantify the relationship between reduced lending risk and energy efficiency, said the researchers. Although some of the underlying factors at play are still fuzzy, they argued that the numbers are enough to spur change.
“You can act on this without knowing the exact cause. We now have enough information to adjust federal mortgage guidelines. The fact is that we are seeing lower default rates, and that’s a lender's biggest concern," said IMT's Majersik.
If you've driven by the old Kleefeld dump in recent days, you may have noticed some weather equipment that's been erected. Steinbach Emergency Coordinator Denis Vassart says this is all part of an online weather station by Environment Canada.
Vassart says the equipment will provide weather information such as temperature, wind speeds and precipitation amounts for the Steinbach area. "Right now if you look at Environment Canada's website and you pick Steinbach as your site you're interested in, it will give you temperatures but on the site it says as observed at Emerson," notes Vassart.
He says obviously the weather at Emerson can be entirely different from the weather at Steinbach and that is the reason they pushed for the new station. The project is an initiative between the Seine Rat River Conservation District, Hanover School Division, Rural Municipality of Hanover, Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives, Environment Canada and City of Steinbach.
Vassart notes the group started working on this project in 2009 and the expectation is that by early February it will be up and running. Then, when you visit Environment Canada's website and view weather information for Steinbach it will show conditions as observed at Kleefeld.
"For weather related emergencies it will be a big help," notes Vassart, who is also Emergency Coordinator for the RM of Hanover. "It's also a great learning tool for the students in the Hanover School Division that can go out there and have a look," he says.
The gate entering the grounds will remain locked, though Vassart says Hanover School Division will have key access if needed. However, he asks the general public not to enter that site.
Welcome To Lorette Billboard - Solar Powered & With LED Lights
(Installed By Evolve Green)
Source: Evolve Green
Evolve Green has recently installedsolar panels and LED lights to the "Welcome To Lorette" billboard seen on the highway just outside of the town of Lorette.
UPDATE... New Lights Extend Winter Fun on Abe's Hill
(Installed by Evolve Green)
Source: Evolve Green
Evolve Green has recently installed a solar powered LED park light at the top of Abe's Hill. This is fully commissioned and operable. Kids can now enjoy tobogganing day or night, even during the short days of winter!
New solar powered lights are being installed at the top of Abe’s Hill in L.A. Barkman Park on Giesbrecht Street. In winter, hours of fun are spent tobogganing, skiing or snowboarding down the hill. The solar lights will allow these winter activities to continue well into the evening.
Solar panels, located on the light post, will collect and store enough energy to run the lights for up to 6 hours each evening. The lights are programmed to turn on at dusk, extending the fun every day by a few hours.
Installation is expected to be completed in the next few days, weather permitting.
The solar lights are one of several recent additions to Steinbach parks made possible in part by a $15,000 Community Places Grant. New stationary fitness equipment also at L.A. Barkman Park and new playground equipment at E.A. Friesen Park were also recently installed.
Solar-Powered Floating Schools Allow Bangladeshi Kids To Learn During Monsoon Season
During monsoon season in Bangladesh, the very severe onslaught of torrential (extremely heavy) rain is such a frequent problem that hundreds of schools have to shut down periodically because of it.
Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a non-profit organization in the area, has started building solar-powered schools which float like boats (they technically are boats) to help address the problem.
They enable schools to continue operation even on floodwater, and into the night, unlike non-solar-powered, grid-connected schools, which end up in the darkness if there is a flood or if it is too stormy.
Sandy-Battered Neighborhood Gives Thanks For Solar
Video Credit: ClimateDesk on Youtube.
In the Rockaways, Long Island, the Bell Harbour Yacht Club made it possible for a local relief effort to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the community that to solar power… they still didn’t have electricity from the grid due to Hurricane Sandy.
This location became an important hub for supplies after Sandy, and the fact that their power wasn’t reconnected quickly enough certainly didn’t help. So, they started utilizing portable solar panels to provide electricity for lighting, some heating, etc.
I’m sure they were happy and thankful that their Thanksgiving wasn’t ruined by darkness and cold weather.
LED Lighting Helps Increase Milk Production By 6 Percent!
Source: As reported by Kirsten Korosec
LED lights are becoming increasingly well known for their energy saving and eco-friendly benefits, with users being able to save significant amounts on their lighting bills when compared to other forms of lighting such as fluorescent and incandescent lights. LED bulbs are to be found in a wide variety of different applications, the latest of which is an extensive field study involving dairy farmers switching to LED lights in their milking sheds.
The research carried out by Oklahoma State University was originally commissioned to look at the performance of the LED lights overall, including electricity consumption and increased durability when installed on a working farm. As a side note, researchers monitored milk production to see the effects that the LEDs had on the livestock to ascertain whether the LED lights would harm the animals and affect their feeding. A reduction in the production of milk would indicate a problem.
However, a startling discovery has come to light, milk production actually increased following the switch from fluorescent to LED bulbs. In fact, the test herds produced an average of 6% more milk under LED light bulbs, equivalent to an extra half gallon per cow per day! The results amazed researchers and farmers alike and they are now looking into exactly why this would happen, as this could mean a revolution in dairy production.
One theory centres around the fact that LED lights reduce stress in the animals, making the cows more productive. The light given off by the new LEDs is a less harsh, more natural light than the previous fluorescent bulbs, offering a far more appealing environment for the livestock.
Dairy farmers can certainly benefit from switching to LED light bulbs in terms of the environmental and energy-saving benefits. LEDs use around 90% less electricity than other standard light bulbs and have a much improved life span – the average LED bulb lasts around 50 000 hours. An added advantage for installation on a working farm is the increased durability offered by LED bulbs, they are not subject to degradation from heat or vibration and therefore are far less prone to failure.