While some provinces feast on clean power and export excess to the U.S., others face famine. A Canada Clean Power Fund could knit together a national grid to create a competitive advantage in the low-carbon future.

Summary and recommendations

Canada’s present and future economic success increasingly depends on access to affordable, clean, reliable electricity delivered at the lowest and most sustainable price. Dependable access to clean electricity provides a tremendous competitive advantage in a world of carbon reduction (think: the emergence of electric vehicles). However, certain historical patterns and recent developments in how we create and distribute electricity in Canada stand in the way of this country reaching its potential.

Canada’s electricity story is one of feast coexisting with famine in which a patchwork of systems improvised over time has created highly disparate outcomes for the provinces. Provinces have each attempted to be self-sufficient, creating “haves” and “have-nots” in electricity generation—the “haves” being able to access affordable, relatively clean electricity such as hydroelectric power, and the “have-nots” requiring costly, polluting projects to meet public need.

There is little inter-provincial trade in electricity to take advantage of each province’s relative strengths and weaknesses in production, and no national strategy in this area of provincial jurisdiction. One result has been that the “haves” are pursuing the short-to-medium term financial benefits of selling into the American market, which diverts power from the domestic market and increases Canada’s economic dependence on the United States.

Canada’s clean energy surpluses should be diverted into the domestic Canadian market. And, to the extent that Canadian federalism permits, a unified national grid—called the Canada Clean Power Fund—should be woven together to pool access. A pan-Canadian approach to electricity distribution provides an opportunity to turn export vulnerability into domestic competitive advantage.

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