I fear that Jack Mintz, an elder statesman of Alberta’s economics community, has joined the “alternative facts” crowd. In a breezy newspaper op-ed — as derisive of carbon policy as it is deep on hearsay — Dr. Mintz sets out to discredit Canada’s emerging climate plan. As is the fashion of late, he uses a chainsaw when a scalpel would do.
In the Financial Post (February 15), Mintz makes dramatic statements, but offers little in the way of proof. The University of Calgary professor appears to suggest that because Canadians will have to make an effort to combat rising temperatures, there is no point in trying. Worse, his argument flies in the face of the facts on many dimensions.
For example, Mintz compares the cost of electricity in Ontario to that in Alberta as if the two systems are identical and correlation is causation. He conveniently ignores the many different reasons why Ontario’s electricity prices rose so much, and fails to mention that the approach being taken to deploy renewables in Alberta and virtually all jurisdictions around the world now do not use the “sole-sourced, non-competitive contracts” he berates.
Mintz says he has been talking to “utility experts” who expect Alberta’s electricity prices to sharply rise in the coming years, implying the NDP government’s policy to phase out coal and grow renewables will directly cause a price surge. Mintz and these anonymous experts must know something the forward market doesn’t, as price projections for power in the province are virtually indistinguishable before and after the introduction of the policies to phase out coal and introduce renewables.
A recent Bloomberg report — which looks at many jurisdictions making this move, not just Ontario — confirms that replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy is not causing electricity prices to increase. For example, in the U.S., average national retail electricity prices have dropped nearly 4% in real terms since 2011 where renewable energy is 22% of the 2016 power fleet.
As for the renewable energy jobs Mintz claims haven’t appeared, again the facts show a different picture. In the U.S., solar power accounts for 43% of the electricity sector’s workforce, with fossil fuel generation a distant second at 22%. There’s no reason to assume that trend will not continue elsewhere.
Mintz offers the B.C. carbon tax as an example of a policy that is unpopular because it has a negative impact on the economy. In fact, B.C. enjoys some of the lowest tax rates in Canada despite the carbon tax and the economy continues to perform amongst the top provinces. Further, the majority of the public do not oppose climate policies, even those with a direct economic effect. Last year’s Abacus polling shows 69% of Canadians favour or can accept a carbon tax.
Finally, the world is not “returning to coal power,” as Mintz asserts. Not in Germany or anywhere else. Coal use within Germany has declined 12.5% since 2007, according to recent reports.
The bottom line is that Jack Mintz’s line of argument is disingenuous and muddies the water when discussing this critical issue. Let’s hope that he demands more academic rigour in his students’ essays than he did of this piece.
Ed Whittingham is the executive director of the Pembina Institute, a non-profit think-tank that advocates for strong, effective policies to support Canada’s clean energy transition.