N.L. says renewable energy plan provides 'pathway' for oil development, net zero goal

Offshore wind

The Newfoundland and Labrador government says its new renewable energy plan unveiled Thursday allows for more oil development without straying from the provincial goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Energy Minister Andrew Parsons said the five-year plan will support the province's transition to a “low-carbon economy'' through the development of renewable energy resources, like wind. It lists more than 70 commitments for action, including a review of the current moratorium on wind energy power on Newfoundland's power grid and the creation of a “Hydrogen Development Action Plan.''

There are several mentions of the potential for renewable energy to power offshore oil and gas projects.

“We know that transition is not done without the offshore oil and gas sector in mind,'' Parsons told reporters in St. John's, N.L. “Over the long term, renewable energy development provides a pathway for further offshore petroleum development while respecting net zero.''

Newfoundland and Labrador has four offshore oilfields and is the country's third-largest producer of crude oil, behind Alberta and Saskatchewan. Oil revenue accounted for nearly 21 per cent of the province's GDP in 2019, according to budget documents released in May.

Critics have long called for the province to make a plan for a transition away from oil and gas and into an economy focused on renewables. Last spring, an economic recovery task force set up by Premier Andrew Furey issued a sweeping report urging a transition to a “green economy.''

Angela Carter, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo, said the plan released Thursday isn't what she has been looking for.

“This kind of plan is a permission slip for continued expansion of the (oil and gas) industry,'' she said in an interview Thursday. “It is not a genuine strategy for a build-out of renewable energy.''

Carter, who is the author of the 2020 book ``Fossilized: Environmental Policy in Canada's Petro-Provinces,'' said the government's continued focus on emissions only at the site of oil extraction is misguided.

“If we're only thinking about the emissions at the platform, we have one eye shut,'' she said. “It's missing the point about what needs to happen in terms of the climate and the economy.''

Nick Mercer, a researcher with Dalhousie University's school for resource and environmental studies who has worked with Indigenous governments to develop local renewable energy projects, said Parson's comments about renewables supporting oil development are “extremely concerning.''

He pointed to the International Energy Agency's report in May saying there can be no ``investment in new fossil fuel supply projects'' if the world is going to hit net-zero targets by 2050.

“Even though renewable energy is nice and pretty, if it's being used to facilitate the destruction of the planet, I really don't think that's a path that we want to go down,'' he said.

Mercer said he felt “deflated'' when he read the renewable energy plan.

“It's 45 beautiful pages,'' Mercer said Thursday. “There's no funding and no targets, no legislation, and no formal promises to actually get us there. I'm happy the province is talking about these things, but I certainly would not qualify this as ambitious renewable energy strategy.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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