Canada: Hopes rise as Trudeau takes over

It may be Halloween on Saturday but, for those in wind, it feels a little like Christmas. In a little over one month, two of the wind industry’s political bogeymen have been shown the door.

On 14 September, Tony Abbott was ousted as leader of Australia’s Liberal Party — and therefore as prime minister — by his long-time rival Malcolm Turnbull; and then, on 21 October, the nine-year rule of Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, ended. He has been replaced as prime minister by the Liberal Party’s Justin Trudeau.

There is plenty of similarities between Abbott and Harper. They are both sceptical about climate change and in thrall to the oil and gas sector, which has resulted in fossil fuels being favoured over green energy. Abbott became the bigger villain for the wind industry after taking Australia from a world leader to a laughing stock within two years. To his credit, Harper did not do that.

Indeed, under Harper’s tenure, wind capacity in Canada grew from 1.5GW at the end of 2006 to 9.7GW at the end of 2014, which is a more-than-sixfold increase. This is faster than the growth in the US over the same period. However, it does not tell the full story.

During Harper’s nine years in charge, Canada became the only country to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change; and he also banned federal scientists from talking publicly about climate change without permission.

He also focused energy policy on making Canada a “superpower” in fossil fuels, rather than diversifying its energy mix away from hydropower, in which Canada is a world leader, and fossil fuels.

As a result, the oil price crash of the last 16 months has hit hard and pushed Canada into the second recession of Harper’s tenure, making his position unviable. The election of Harper’s Liberal rival Trudeau has sense a bolt of excitement through the wind sector.

The Canadian Council on Renewable Energy has highlighted some of Trudeau’s key policies that it now wants to see delivered. These including a new framework to address climate change; working with Canada’s ten provinces on a new renewables-focused power strategy; investing an extra $100m a year in the cleantech sectors; shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables; and introducing green bond for community renewable projects.

And Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, said Trudeau and his government could now build on the C$30bn ($23bn) invested in renewables in Canada over the last five years. He said the new government could “make Canada a leader in the global shift to a clean energy economy”, and that is what those in Canadian wind will be hoping.

But we should always be cautious about getting too excited about a new political regime, as the day-to-day business of politics can kill even the most promising election pledges.

For every political leader that delivers their green energy promises, like India’s Narendra Modi, there are others like the UK’s David Cameron that only end disappoint.

But, this Halloween, Trudeau looks rather more angel than devil.

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