Cons 425 Themes 2013: (April 4 version)

Energy System

  1. Fossil fuels dominate world energy use (81%)
  2. Increased population and per capita income create persistent pressure for increased energy use
  3. The sustainability of the energy system is threatened less by supply shortages and more by troubling environmental effects
  4. While fossil fuels are non-renewable, the peak oil metaphor is overly simplistic because it does not take into account supply and demand feedbacks from changing price signals
  5.  All energy technologies create environmental risks. In assessing the risks and benefits of an energy resource it is critical to consider the entire life cycle, including extraction, processing, transportation, end use, and disposal.


6. Neither the free market or non-compulsory policy instruments are sufficient to achieve adequately clean fossil fuels; compulsory government actions are required

  1. Carbon taxes, cap and trade, and regulations can all be effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon tax and cap and trade are unquestionable more cost-effective. Less efficient regulations seem most politically feasible, carbon taxes least.
  2. Choices on actions and policies should be guided by how to get the energy services we need at the least possible economic, environmental, and socio-political cost
  3. By forcing agencies to consider environmental consequences, environmental assessment is a critical tool, but it does not affect the balance of values decision-makers ultimately apply.


10.The geographic location of valuable energy resource has a profound political impact; oil price increases have troubling geopolitical consequences

11. Policies are produced through governance processes, influenced by environment and markets.

11. Canadian energy governance is complex, and is best thought of as focused on three questions: Who decides? Who participates? At what level?

13. Institutional design matters because the balance of preferences may change as the location of authority changes

14. Canadian governments have the duty to consult and accommodate First Nations about resource development projects, but the test for accommodation is highly uncertain.

15. Actors in the policy process have interests and resources, and adopt strategies designed to best use those resources in pursuit of their interests.

16. The impacts of Trudeau’s 1980 National Energy Program fueled Alberta’s anti-Ottawa mindset, increasing resistance to national energy and environmental policies

17. Free trade agreements surrendered the capacity to use trade policy instruments in exchange for security of access to US markets.


18. Canada’s oil sands are a substantial source of fossil energy but pose significant environmental risks to air, water, and land. Current policies do not adequately address these risks, and current prices do not reflect the full environmental costs of this energy source.


Post midterm

19. The transformative shale gas revolution shows how technological change can drive expansion of supply and alter environmental risks.

20. Because of the energy intensity of LNG, BC’s ambitious LNG strategy has major implications for climate policy and electricity planning

21. BC’s electricity price structure, with its cost-based “heritage contract” approach is a serious deterrent to sustainable energy because it is a disincentive to conservation and the development of new, renewable sources of power.

22.  There is a new politics of clean energy being fought out between, on the one hand, environmental and community opponents of new energy development concerned about local impacts and privatization, and on the other hand, environmentalists whose alarm about climate change motivates them to urge non-carbon based energy development.

23. A fundamental shift in the energy system towards renewable energy appears technically and economically feasible. The biggest barriers at present appear to be inadequate policy signals and the logistical and social challenges of rapid build-out

24.  Demand-side management has enormous potential in the BC electricity sector, but uncertainties about behavioural response are significant.

25. Nuclear power is expensive, and poses significant environmental risks and the risk of catastrophic events including nuclear weapons proliferation. However, given the immense challenge of reducing greenhouse gases, it is likely to pay a significant role in the future of the energy system.

26. Building a National Energy Strategy for Canada requires reconciling the competing goals of increasing market access for oil sands and meeting Canada’s GHG targets

27. The future of a sustainable energy system is clouded by 3 core uncertainties: (1) Will CCS be viable? (2)Can nuclear power be made sufficiently safe? (3) Can the variability of renewable resources be managed without large scale baseload (firm) power?

Concluding Theme:

28. Concluding theme: Sustainable energy requires that prices reflect their true environmental and social cost. Government action is required to internalize costs. Policy is made by politicians whose core interest is reelection, which discourages them from imposing costs. Therefore, there is a profound tension between the incentives of politicians to avoid imposing costs and the need to use government action to increase prices.