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Incoming CanREA president talks electricity and decarbonization

IMAGE: incoming CanREA president Vittoria Bellissimo
Incoming CanREA president and CEO Vittoria Bellissimo (Courtesy the Canadian Renewable Energy Association)

Incoming Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CanREA) president and CEO Vittoria Bellissimo says the organization must play a leadership role in accelerating decarbonization across the country. And it needs to move quickly.

CanREA, consisting of over 300 member companies, was established on July 1, 2020 when the Canadian Wind Energy Association and the Canadian Solar Industries Association united to create one group advocating for wind, solar and energy storage solutions. It is headquartered in Ottawa.

She’ll be stepping into a role previously occupied by Robert Hornung, who spent a total of 19 years with CanREA and its wind energy predecessor.

She will take up the role effective Oct. 31.

"I think we have a limited time to decarbonize everything. Electricity is such an exciting sector, because you can track it all the way from production to consumption, and you can track carbon all the way through the process as well. We can use electricity to decarbonize other sectors, in particular, transportation, buildings and heavy industry,” Bellissimo said.

“I am really looking forward to leading the impressive CanREA team, I think we have an important job to do and I can't wait to get started.”

Bellissimo spent over a decade as executive director of the Industrial Power Consumers Association of Alberta, and has also worked in renewable energy procurement at the Ontario Ministry of Energy and the Ontario Power Authority.

There will be a two-week transition period before she officially takes over the role. She will also make an appearance at the Electricity Transformation Canada conference and exhibition in Toronto Oct. 26 to 28.

Road to 2050

CanREA's goals  are documented in its 2050 Vision, released November 2021. Its scenario for a net-zero Canada by 2050 requires the deployment 3,800 MW of wind energy and 1,600 MW of solar energy annually for the next 29 years.

The first task it sets for the industry is to decarbonize Canada’s electricity production by 2035.

“The majority of the work that I'm going to do is to try to open up all of the markets across Canada and get as many megawatts on the system as we can. So we're also going to do some significant work to ensure that the projects that are on the system are well managed and we look after the operating side of the business,” Bellissimo explained.

“Then we want to provide thought leadership in this space. So we want to be the go-to place for discussions on how to advance wind, solar and energy storage across Canada.”

The CanREA report cites Canadian Climate Institute research that suggests electricity production in Canada must increase anywhere from 47 per cent to 87 per cent, depending on over 60 different potential pathways to net-zero by 2050. The only way to hit any of these goals is with steady progress.

“I'd like to see every year be a bigger growth year than the previous year for wind, solar and energy storage,” Bellissimo said. “I want to absolutely make new records, and then I want to make new records on top of that.”

Canada’s strengths and weaknesses

Canada's electrical grid is currently comprised of over 80 per cent non-emitting sources. In 2020, electricity created 56 megatonnes of the 672 total megatonnes in greenhouse gas emissions, dropping about 53 per cent from 2005 levels.

According to Bellissimo, Canada added nearly a gigawatt of generation capacity in 2021. Growth in wind capacity was 4.9 per cent while solar capacity grew by 13.6 per cent. 

While there’s certainly much to celebrate when it comes to Canada’s record with renewables, Bellissimo states we’ll have to double our electricity consumption by 2050, leaving plenty of work still to come.

One area she cites for improvement is in regards to power purchase agreements (PPAs) – long-term contracts between energy buyers and renewable energy project developers. The buyer acquires energy from the project for a predetermined rate once the project comes online.

“Alberta has been very successful at corporate PPAs," she said. "To date, Canada in total has seen over two gigawatts of corporate renewable energy deals and the majority of that is in Alberta.

"I think that's an area that we need to open up for the rest of the country.”

There will also be efforts to reduce any policy, regulatory or market-related barriers to entry for more megawatts on the system.

There are a number of large-scale, looming challenges facing Canada and the rest of the world regarding the adoption of renewables. This includes supply chain woes bolstered by the war in Ukraine, an increasingly likely recession and possible competition with our American neighbours.

“The Inflation Reduction Act in the United States is going to force Canada to have to be more competitive,” she said. “That's going to change the picture. There are always barriers to break down.”

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