Canada's clean-energy investments have slowed just as the federal government is promising to begin the crossover from reliance on fossil fuels to a renewable-energy future.
A new report from Clean Energy Canada shows spending dropped in 2015 to just more than $10-billion across the country – a 15-per-cent decline from the previous year and in contrast to the global trend. Around the world, the total investment in renewable electricity has now eclipsed investment in fossil fuel electricity.
A large part of the shift in Canada is because of British Columbia, where year-over-year investment declined by 52 per cent. The province's commitment to one major energy project, the $9-billion Site C dam, has left little appetite for new investment in renewable-energy projects.
"This is a pivotal time for clean energy in Canada," the organization's executive director, Merran Smith, said in an interview. "We are concerned about what happens next in Canada."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to build Canada's clean economy as part of the country's commitment to tackling climate change. In March, he won agreement from the premiers to "transition our country to a stronger, more resilient, low-carbon economy."
But the work on a national climate action plan has been hung up on getting agreement from all the provinces on carbon pricing, and completion of the Canadian climate plan will wait at least until the Prime Minister's next summit with provincial and territorial leaders in October.
Ms. Smith said that plan needs to include firm targets to transition to a greener economy.
"Electricity is going to power the economy in the 21st century, not just in Canada but globally. That's why we want to become a leader. We want to have our companies not only able to produce clean electricity for here at home, but we want them to be selling into the global market," she said.
Her organization is not opposed to the construction of the 1,100-megawatt Site C hydro-electric dam, but she said British Columbia will need to create new demand for electricity to ensure that the province regains its place as a leader in the clean-energy sector.
Investment in renewable energy in British Columbia dropped to $790-million last year, well behind Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
"The consequences of that decision [to move forward with Site C] is that it leaves no room for smaller clean-power sources like wind and solar. And from an economic perspective, it is concerning, because the cost of renewables are dropping so dramatically that it really makes them an attractive choice."
British Columbia is set to table its new climate action plan this month, which could include some measures to boost investment in clean energy. The province is backing a federal carbon tax but has frozen its own rate since 2012, and British Columbia's greenhouse gas emissions are now rising again. With the national discussion around a federal carbon tax unresolved, it is not clear if British Columbia will make a decision this month on the future of its own carbon tax.
Ms. Smith said Alberta and Saskatchewan are now the policy leaders in Canada on setting climate-friendly targets. Alberta's new climate leadership plan will phase out coal-fired power by 2030, while shifting to one-third renewable power by that same year. In Saskatchewan, the government has committed to double its reliance on renewable energy, to one-half of all its electricity, by 2030.
British Columbia, which already gets most of its electricity from renewable energy, will need to set aggressive new targets to push for electricity to replace fossil fuels in homes and vehicles to curb rising emissions, Ms. Smith said.
The province's main challenge in putting together a new climate plan has been its simultaneous ambition to establish a liquefied natural gas sector. The federal government wants to see significant action by British Columbia to combat climate change as Ottawa mulls approval of a giant project to export liquefied natural gas from the province's northern coast.
British Columbia says it can dramatically reduce the GHGs generated by LNG production, but the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG plant would remain, if approved, a significant carbon polluter.