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Quebec, B.C., P.E.I. lead provinces on clean economy transition: report

Heat pumps, EV rebates, energy efficiency push top scorers ahead in Clean Energy Canada ranking

Canada's provincial leaders on the energy transition are Quebec, B.C and P.E.I., a report from think tank Clean Energy Canada says. (Courtesy Clean Energy Canada)

A report card grading Canada’s provinces on their conversions to a low-carbon economy found Quebec, British Columbia and P.E.I. as the best performers, with Canada overall receiving a C grade. 

The report analyzed how provinces are attracting investment and supporting businesses and supply chains in the clean economy, and helping households move away from fossil fuels. The data breaks down into efforts across the buildings, energy, industry and transportation sectors.

Clean Energy Canada, the Vancouver think tank behind the report, gave Quebec the highest grade among the provinces with an A for leading on clean energy, industry and transportation. B.C. received a B, standing out nationwide for green buildings. P.E.I. was also given a B, showing leadership potential on buildings, energy and industry.

Ontario, Manitoba and the other Atlantic provinces got Cs, while Alberta and Saskatchewan were at the bottom of the pack with D grades.

As provinces control 80 per cent of public spending, Canada’s transition to a more sustainable economy heavily relies on their actions, Rachel Doran, vice-president of policy and strategy at Clean Energy Canada, told Sustainable Biz Canada.

“The average grade being C (shows) there’s work to be done across the board. But I don’t think that needs to be discouraging,” Doran said.

The report also shares examples of best practices and identifies advantages and opportunities every province has in the energy transition.

What the best scorers do to lead

The leading provinces generally did best on helping households switch to heat pumps, offering zero-emissions vehicle rebates, and investing in public transit and energy efficiency, Doran said.

National leader Quebec has the cleanest electric grid and the “most generous and longest-running EV (electric vehicle) rebate in the country.” It is also building an EV battery supply chain and an extensive supply charging network.

“If you look at what Quebec’s done, they didn’t have a traditional auto manufacturing sector. They looked very strategically at their competitive advantages, marketed their clean electricity, their critical minerals, built a supply chain that built off those,” Doran explained.

B.C. scored the highest on buildings for its heat pump rebates, energy efficiency and retrofit programs, and the BC Energy Step Code and Zero Carbon Step Code.

P.E.I. was the leader among the Atlantic provinces, receiving As in heat pump rebates, energy efficiency and retrofit programs, supporting cleantech and decarbonization innovation, and provincial EV rebates.

Finding comparative advantages

Emphasizing that there is no one-size-fits-all policy package for every province — Quebec’s strategy would not work in Saskatchewan, for example — Doran said the report identifies the advantages the C and D grade provinces could better utilize in their shifts to low-carbon economies.

Alberta received a D despite strong growth in solar and wind power generation because of policy uncertainty created by a moratorium on renewable energy projects, a lack of support for EVs or energy efficiency, and its focus on the oil and gas industry.

But it is spearheading carbon capture, utilization and storage technology, helped by its innovation centres and energy industry experience. Permanent carbon removal could be an area it specializes in, Clean Energy Canada writes.

“Alberta,” Doran said, “has so much potential with a history of innovation and R&D and huge renewable energy capacity, so how does it build the policies that take advantage of what works for it while creating business certainty and advantages that its citizens and businesses need?”

Saskatchewan’s advantages are investment attractiveness and minimal red tape; Ontario is receiving billions in EV supply chain investments and renewable energy; New Brunswick has shown proficiency in net-zero modelling of energy pathways and developing an energy strategy, as other examples.

Where everyone can improve

Even the leading provinces can improve their on adoption of low-carbon building materials, Doran added. Spain and Sweden are global leaders on building with concrete and steel made with less carbon, and Canada can catch up as it is already a producer of those materials.

She also urges governments to set targets so the public sector and industries have a roadmap for the energy transition.

“Set some objectives that really benefit from the competitive advantage," Doran said. "I think in Canada that’s seen as something that’s politically risky, but it helps everybody row in the same direction and gives that whole strategic approach that signals where are we aiming to compete and where aren’t we, rather than spending government dollars spread thin like butter everywhere.

"Really put them where it’s going to count and matter.”

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