Kenney vs. Notley – it’s the war of competing visions for Alberta energy

UCP leader Jason Kenney and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

UCP leader Jason Kenney, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley

Evidence demonstrates conclusively that technology is driving radical changes to global energy system

The May, 2019 Alberta election is coming. Energy promises to be front and centre in the campaign, which is why Albertans need to understand the two visions they will be asked to choose between, that of NDP Premier Rachel Notley and that of UCP leader Jason Kenney (buttressed by industry trade associations positions because the party has little policy at this point). The principal difference between Notley and Kenney can be summed up in one question: Do you think the global energy system is being transformed by new energy technologies?

If you answer “yes” to that question, you’re in the Notley camp.

But if you answer “no” – or if you think the transformation will be gradual, taking many decades, and there is no need in the meantime to burden the oil and gas sector with onerous policies and regulations – then you’re in the Kenney camp.

To be clear, there is nothing inherently good or bad about either camp. Both are supportive of the Alberta oil sands, construction of new pipelines, development of Asian markets, support for technology innovation, and so on.

But your view of what’s happening to the global energy system colours your view of whether change is coming quickly or slowly (or not at all) and whether or not Alberta needs to use public policy to adapt quickly or slowly (or not at all).

After interviewing dozens of international experts on various facets of the energy system over the past five years, my view is that change is more likely to come quickly.

Werner Antweiler, economist, UBC.

“Innovation is playing an enormous role in the energy sector. There are thousands of energy technologies at the bottom of the S-curve,” Werner Antweiler, economist with the University of British Columbia, said in an interview.

Prof. Antweiler agrees that between now and 2030, many of the early stage or still immature energy technologies will begin to climb the S-curve and slowly begin to displace oil and gas. And technologies that are a little further up the S-curve – like electric cars, which should benefit from new solid-state batteries and autonomous drive sometime in the mid to late-2020s – are ready for step change disruptions that could push them from single to double digit market penetration.

Can we guess these trends with any accuracy?


But what we can reasonably say is that energy technology change is speeding up and the next few decades promise to be chaotic and volatile.

Dave Collyer, former Shell Canada engineer and executive, and former CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, believes Alberta needs to begin adapting now to the changes that are coming.

Dave Collyer.

“We ignore climate change at our peril because it’s is going to influence policy, it’s going to influence technology, it’s going to influence transition over time to a cleaner, lower-carbon economy,” he said in an Energi News interview last year.

“We need to, as an oil and gas industry in Alberta, embrace the change rather than resist the change.”

Collyer says the issue of embracing or resisting change is heavily politicized within the Alberta-based oil and gas sector.

‘I think it’s unfortunate because I don’t think this should be a political issue; I think it’s actually a pretty fundamental public policy issue and something irrespective of ones’ political beliefs we need to get behind it,” he said.

“People tend to want to line up behind one party or the other as opposed to asking, ‘What’s good public policy? What’s good for the industry? What’s good for Alberta in the long run?’”.

Now, contrast Collyer’s worldview with that of Paul Colborne, CEO of Surge Industry, who released a “statement of facts on Canadian energy” he hopes will rally Canadians to support the natural resources sector.

Whereas Collyer says we need to embrace change because the energy system is changing, Colborne argues we should more vigorously embrace the status quo because, for some inexplicable reason, Canadians have suddenly begun “acting ashamed or embarrassed” of our resources.

Collyer looks ahead to 2038 for inspiration, Colborne looks back to 1998 when all that mattered was producing oil and gas at the lowest possible cost and making the largest possible profit while adhering to the “world class regulatory system” so many in the Canadian industry point to with pride.

Colborne never once mentions the momentous changes taking place in the global energy system, ignores the Tsunami of energy technology gathering on the horizon, and completely overlooks the challenge of climate change, which will be driving global, national, and local policy choices for the foreseeable future.

The Surge Energy CEO is guilty of a sin Collyer says many industry insiders suffer from: viewing the world through the “Alberta lens.”

I call that myopia, but potato/pohtatoh I suppose.

Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips has said many times during interviews over the past two years that the Notley government’s energy policies are based upon the view that Alberta must be re-positioned to prosper in the future energy system.

Jason Kenney has made it clear, and the energy motion adopted at the May UCP convention drives home the point, that the UCP favour Colborne’s worldview.

So, ask yourself if, based upon the best available evidence, the global energy system is transforming or static (or merely evolving)?

The answer to that question will show pretty definitively whether you favour Notley or Kenney’s energy worldview.

And should probably decide who you vote for in 2019.

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