Sean Roberts makes some interesting points. But, to me, it is overly simplistic to cast Manitoba’s hydro as a "potential future adversary in energy politics" of Alberta’s oil. Is there not a world where we rely substantially on both sources of energy, certainly during a transitional period but even into the future?
Hydro is renewable. It is also near the low end of the carbon emission spectrum. But hydro generation plants have become increasingly expensive to build, requiring that cost recovery be spread over several generations. An extended cost recovery makes hydro plants a riskier and costlier choice compared to fossil-fuelled plants with their shorter life cycle. But it is also costly for another reason — because hydro is typically generated far away from load, transmission and distribution.
Don’t be fooled by the relatively low prices we currently pay for hydroelectricity in Manitoba. As Roberts notes, we owe that to capacity wisely built years ago in a lower-priced era and in an expanding market. However, plants and transmission built then now require maintenance. Deferred maintenance has caught up to us at precisely the same moment as we have decided to expand capacity. Regrettably, the market that looked attractive during the decade-long planning cycle for expansion no longer looks that way as we offer our looming surplus into a market made stingy by fossil fuels and, you guessed it, wind and solar.
There is clear evidence that wind and solar energy, both also renewable and relatively clean, are already much less costly than new hydro. This does not imply that hydro is obsolete — only that one of its future roles may be to backstop solar and wind when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Manitoba can also improve the regional balance of renewable energy.
Manitoba’s energy future will be a complex mix of hydro, solar, wind and, yes, fossil fuels. It may even embrace other forms of energy like biomass and geo-energy that are now minor players, and even hydrogen.
Replacing fossil fuels, now the predominant source of transportation energy, will take time as electric vehicle prices decline and charging infrastructure is built. As Roberts implies, batteries will even out consumer demand. In the interim, fossil fuels will still play a role. For travel in and to remote areas, they will have a place well into the future.
COMMENT by Dennis Woodford
Regarding "Fossil fuels will still play role" by Garland Laliberte, the glory days of oil have passed. The National Energy Board have stated that Canada reached peak oil consumption in 2017. See: