Engagement along the road to a sustainable electricity future

For members of the Canadian Electricity Association (CEA), engagement is about tackling challenges head-on. It is also about embracing fresh opportunities and working together with stakeholders to realize the full potential of the future.

We’re starting to see dividends of this engagement. Air emissions are at an all-time low. Engagement levels with employees, local communities, stakeholders, and Aboriginal Peoples have significantly improved. Investments to renew and modernize infrastructure are on the rise. Together, we’re defining the future today.

We’ve just released the 2014 Sustainable Electricity Annual Report, Engaged for a Sustainable Future, which tracks the environmental, social, and economic performance of CEA members. I’m delighted to say that, as a major economic sector, we made great strides in sustainability performance last year.

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Let me just highlight a few things:

    • Ontario led the way in decreasing our dependency on coal, but it’s a trend we’re seeing all across the country—with tangible results. We’ve reduced the electricity sector’s air emissions—sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury—over the past year, while CO2 emissions reached an all-time low. In fact, the electricity sector is projected to be the only economic sector in Canada to deliver significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to meet Canada’s climate change commitments under the Copenhagen Accord.
    • Utilities also made significant progress in engaging and communicating with their stakeholders. The past year saw an increase in the number of utilities with permanent stakeholder advisory groups and formal processes for improving stakeholder engagement. In particular, over the past decade, CEA members have gone beyond any other economic sector in Canada to develop mutually-beneficial business relationships with Aboriginal Peoples.
    • And on the economic front, CEA members spent approximately $14.2 billion on new and refurbished infrastructure to ensure we continue to power everything from household electronics to the critical systems in hospitals and businesses for generations to come.

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These are some encouraging numbers, but you might be wondering what measures we’ve taken to improve sustainability performance. This year’s Annual Report includes more than 80 case studies and success stories about the programs, partnerships, and activities that utilities have undertaken to improve their environmental, social, and economic performance.

Here’s just a small taste of the many inspiring stories found in the report:

    • ATCO Electric took an innovative approach to reducing the environmental impact of replacing an aging six-kilometre section of distribution line in the rough terrain of Jasper National Park. Using boatswain’s chairs, helicopters, and rubber-tracked ATVs to avoid disturbing wildlife, water bodies, and vegetation, ATCO Electric installed an aerial spacer cable system that better withstands falling trees and reduces outages.

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A section of the newly-installed aerial spacer cable system along the Astoria River in Jasper National Park (photo courtesy of ATCO Electric).

    • SaskPower raised the bar on how electric utilities can successfully engage with Aboriginal Peoples. Since implementing a new “whole company” approach that facilitates educational and economic opportunities for the Aboriginal Peoples touched by its operations, SaskPower has seen great results, including signing an agreement with the First Nations Power Authority to establish a portfolio of First Nations-led generation facilities; recruiting 15 full-time Aboriginal employees, and providing $1.2 million to Aboriginal education programs across Saskatchewan.

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The 2013 participants from the Island Falls Hydroelectric Station High School Graduate Program in Saskatchewan. Pictured from left to right: Corey Bear, Clorrissa Morin, Marianne McCallum, Rein McCallum (photo courtesy of SaskPower).

    • BC Hydro invested in energy storage and reliability, building Canada’s first battery energy storage facility in Field, a small remote community in Yoho National Park. With funding from Natural Resources Canada’s Clean Energy Fund, BC Hydro installed the state-of-the-art battery energy storage facility to store energy produced by renewable sources to meet Field’s electricity needs for up to seven hours in the event of an outage.

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Trevor Wareham, BC Hydro Electrician Subforeman, and Vlad Kostsky, BC Hydro Project Manager, inspect one of four banks of sodium-sulphur battery modules. These four banks of battery modules, linked together, create the one megawatt capacity of the energy storage facility in Field, British Columbia (photo courtesy of BC Hydro).

These are all positive developments, but the fact of the matter is there’s still more work to be done along our path to a truly environmentally-, socially-, and economically-sustainable electricity industry. The Annual Report identified several areas in which we need to improve.

For example, we need to do more to prevent priority spills, which increased in 2013. We also need to continue fostering a strong safety culture because even though overall injuries declined, the number of calendar days lost due to severe injuries increased.

2013 also proved to be a challenging year for power outages, as a number of severe weather events—such as the summer floods in Calgary and Toronto, and the winter storms in Ontario and the Maritimes—affected customers. While CEA members responded swiftly to restore power, events like these are on the rise and impress upon us the importance of setting new levels of preparedness to respond to these situations more effectively, and the need to urgently adapt to severe weather and climate change.

As a major economic sector, we’re committed to making progress, and in the year ahead, we will discuss, innovate, collaborate, engage our stakeholders, and take action to make meaningful changes and improve our performance.

I encourage you to check out the full report to learn more about the progress we’re making in securing a sustainable electricity future for Canadians, and tell us what you think:

Are we meeting your expectations for a sustainable future for the electricity industry?

 

Channa Perera is Director of Sustainable Development at the Canadian Electricity Association.