Opinion: Consultant’s report could be wasted energy if NDP don’t use advice (2024)

Opinion

When the NDP government started work last fall on forging a new and more comprehensive energy and climate change strategy, it immediately ran into a problem.

The NDP was unable to get access to an exhaustive analysis of Manitoba’s current and future energy needs by Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors, one of the world’s leading energy consultants. The report had been commissioned by the previous Progressive Conservative government at a cost of more than $1.2 million.

When the NDP tried to access the Dunsky report, it found out the Tories had, as one of their last official acts, classified it as “advice to cabinet,” which put it outside the reach of any future government.

Undeterred, government sources confirmed the NDP re-engaged with Dunsky and asked the consultant to produce an “updated” version of the original report. It was a clever workaround given the circ*mstances, although it did add to the overall cost.

What will come from this new and improved report?

Premier Wab Kinew confirmed last week a new energy strategy will be unveiled in September, with affordability as its principle goal. The premier acknowledged climate change was also a pressing issue, as was the need to generate more electricity in environmentally sensible ways.

However, Kinew said Manitobans won’t help meet the environmental goals unless there are “positive incentives” in place to electrify home heating and transportation.

The parameters described by Kinew should be served very well by a new, improved and updated report.

The original report commissioned by former Tory premier Heather Stefanson was intended to advise Manitoba of ways to generate more power to meet a growing population within a broader plan to ensure the province’s energy grid had net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The report and its findings were highly newsworthy leading up to the big reveal last year.

Perhaps the better term would be “partial reveal.”

The Tories refused to release the full report. Instead, Stefanson held a news conference last July to unveil “an electricity road map for Manitoba,” a 34-page document that did carry the Dunsky logo but did not contain all of the advice the Montreal-based consultant provided.

A copy of the unabridged report, obtained by the Free Press, showed the PC government had redacted or rewritten many of the recommendations it found to be politically inconvenient.

In the original report, Dunsky said the only way for Manitoba to meet its future energy needs and get to net-zero emissions was to start weaning Manitobans off of natural gas for home heating, build an extensive network of EV charging stations and invest heavily in alternative (solar and wind) electricity generation.

More problematic for the Stefanson government was Dunsky’s recommendation Manitoba establish its own form of carbon pricing to generate the revenue necessary to pay for demand side management and alternative energy generation. This turned out to be a recommendation too far for the Tories.

The PC government — both under Stefanson and her predecessor Brian Pallister — had invested enormous political capital in assailing the federal carbon tax, while waffling on a made-in-Manitoba system for carbon pricing. Rather than explain why it was rejecting this recommendation, it was easier for Stefanson to just bury it.

What will Dunsky recommend to the Kinew government this time around? It’s hard to imagine the consultant walking back the core recommendations originally made to the Stefanson government. If Philippe Dunsky and the team sticks to its principles, Kinew may find himself in a similarly awkward situation.

In the year since Stefanson’s “electricity road map,” the debate over carbon pricing has evolved. Now, an increasingly large chorus of political leaders — including Kinew and other western Canadian New Democrats — have expressed skepticism about whether consumer-level carbon taxation is desirable in a marketplace that has become so hostile to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s largely ineffective carbon pricing system.

Can Kinew shun carbon pricing and still generate the revenue to fund the incentives to help Manitobans invest in energy efficiency and alternative forms of heating and transportation? It seems unlikely at this point, particularly for a government that is still patting itself on the back for suspending the provincial gasoline tax.

Kinew is not wrong when he suggests the future of carbon pricing, if it has a future, might be best enforced somewhere else other than at the gas pump. Large industrial emitters could still be subjected to a carbon tax system of some sort, with the hope it would generate enough money to fund investments in wind and solar generation.

But Kinew cannot have his carbon-tax-free cake and eat his alternative generating capacity, too.

Manitoba Hydro no longer has the financial capacity to make major investments in electricity generation, and following the cost overruns associated with the Keeyask generating station, not even the traditionally dam-happy NDP are rushing to promote new construction.

Kinew acted appropriately to order up a new draft of the report. Ignoring Dunsky’s recommendations, or hiding them, will only land the NDP in the same dilemma faced by the Tories.

dan.lett@winnipegfreepress.com

Opinion: Consultant’s report could be wasted energy if NDP don’t use advice (2)

Dan Lett
Columnist

Dan Lett is a columnist for the Free Press, providing opinion and commentary on politics in Winnipeg and beyond. Born and raised in Toronto, Dan joined the Free Press in 1986. Read more about Dan.

Dan’s columns are built on facts and reactions, but offer his personal views through arguments and analysis. The Free Press’ editing team reviews Dan’s columns before they are posted online or published in print — part of the ourtradition, since 1872, of producing reliable independent journalism. Read more about Free Press’s history and mandate, and learn how our newsroom operates.

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Updated on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 9:26 AM CDT: Corrects typo, shortens photo cutline

Opinion: Consultant’s report could be wasted energy if NDP don’t use advice (2024)
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