Most Americans have only the haziest idea of Canada’s importance to the U.S. economy, particularly in the energy field.
According to the U.S. Energy Administration, the United States total crude oil imports in 2011 averaged 9.033 million barrels per day, with Canada topping the list of the top four exporting countries with 2.666 million barrels per day crossing the border, followed by Mexico with 1.319 mbpd, Saudi Arabia sending 1.107 mbpd and Venezuela in fourth place at 930,000 barrels per day.
Little wonder then, that Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney has made energy a centrepiece of his campaign. “The Romney Plan For A Stronger Middle Class: ENERGY INDEPENDENCE” in its “Pursue a North American Energy Partnership” section reports, “As Canadian Prime Minister Harper notes, fostering a greater North American energy partnership that replaces OPEC imports with stable supply from secure sources at discounted prices should be a “no brainer.”
But while the Romney white paper foresees a North American, Canadian-American-Mexican energy partnership based on fossil fuels production, Canada’s Ontario province could soon become a major source for American electricity imports generated by – renewable energy.
Ontario is Canada's most populous province, the country’s fourth largest in total area and home to the nation's most populous city, Toronto as well as the national capital Ottawa. Along its 1,677 mile border with the U.S. are the states along the southern shore of the Great Lakes - Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The province’s population is roughly 13 million, and they suffer from a problem rare in the world – a surplus of electrical energy. Ontario now produces roughly 2,000 megawatts of wind and solar power dumped into the province’s electricity grid, with such a surplus at times the province sometimes has to sell surplus electricity at a loss.
Other energy sources in Ontario’s treasure chest? The province is home to Niagara Falls, which supplies a large amount of hydroelectricity, and the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, the world’s second largest nuclear power plant, is also in Ontario and uses 8 CANDU reactors to generate 4,640 megawatts of electricity for the province.
On 14 May 2009 the Ontario Legislature passed the Green Energy and Green Economy Act.
The GEA had two main components, to increase the use of renewable energy sources to the province while promoting energy efficiency measures. Furthermore, the approvals process for transmission projects would also be streamlined under the GEA. The GEA was intended to “provide the government with the necessary tools to ensure Ontario's place as North America's renewable energy leader, and to create a culture of conservation, assisting homeowners, government, schools and industry in embracing lower energy use.”
As Ontario is scheduled to generate 10,700 megawatts of renewable energy which is due to come into service by 2018, can Ontario’s grid system handle the strain?
No problem, said Amir Shalaby of the Ontario Power Authority last week when addressing a sceptical audience of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers at a meeting at the Toronto Board of Trade.
But top of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers’ concerns is the erratic nature of renewable power generation, as wind turbines generate electricity only when the wind is blowing and solar facilities when the sun is shining. As a result, the Ontario power grid is forced to keep other generators, primarily natural gas-fired plants on standby to handle the shortages.
So, what to do with the surplus megawatts? As the GEA contained legislation to streamline the approvals process for transmission projects, why now not build additional power cables to the U.S. to connect to its power grids?
Most of the U.S. states along the border are already connected to Canadian provinces through an extensive high-voltage system. Canada's main U.S. customers are New England, New York, the Midwestern states and the Pacific Northwest, with the Canadian provinces exporting the most electricity being Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia. According to the U.S. Energy Administration, “In 2010, Canada exported 43.8 billion kWh of electricity to the United States.”
But currently Canada’s electricity trade with the U.S. accounts for only a fraction of the value of Canadian energy sent southwards, which are still dominated by oil and natural gas exports, currently accounting for only 1-2 per cent of total U.S. power consumption.
Still, something for the governors of Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania to think about, as a power transmission cable is much cheaper than a new power plant, be it oil, natural gas or nuclear powered.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com