The amount of money spent on clean energy projects in Canada jumped sharply in 2014, as new wind, solar and hydro plants took shape across the country.
According to figures compiled by climate think tank Clean Energy Canada and released Thursday, the value of new clean energy projects last year was $10.9-billion, up 88 per cent from $5.8-billion the year before.
While that is a dramatic increase, the organization says that Canada could be making an even stronger shift to renewables if the federal government did more to encourage the industry. "The provinces are doing all the heavy lifting," the report says, while "Ottawa remains largely indifferent to the opportunities of the clean energy revolution."
About half of the 2014 increase was due to construction of wind farms while most of the balance came from solar and large hydro-electric projects. Small hydro and biogas operations were much smaller contributors to the total.
That amount of construction is "astounding" and represents almost double the amount of money spent on agriculture, fishing and forestry combined, said Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada. She attributed most of the gains to provincial policies, which have helped attract investment to the sector, particularly in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. At the same time, the business community has created some innovative investment mechanisms that have also helped pull money into the sector, she said.
In 2014, Canada ranked sixth globally in attracting clean energy investment, after China, the United States, Japan, Britain and Germany, according to a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Canada could move up those ranks if Ottawa played a greater role in supporting the sector, the Clean Energy Canada report said. It noted that the only federal program that has had a strong positive impact is Sustainable Development Technology Canada, a government-funded foundation that helps support clean-tech demonstration projects.
Ms. Smith said that the federal government could accelerate growth by setting up a clean-technology infrastructure fund, putting a price on carbon, or establishing a national clean transportation strategy – something many other G7 countries have done. At the very least Ottawa should set specific goals and targets for clean energy, she said.
Ms. Smith said she is surprised clean energy has not been a bigger part of the economic discussions in the current federal election campaign, since her organization's research shows the sector is becoming a big business in this country and "Canadians want to be part of a clean energy economy."
Targeted government support could also help diversify the economy, she said. "Every other major industrial sector, from the oil sands to the aerospace industry, has received targeted federal government support to get off the ground."
The U.S. government is "far more engaged" in the sector than Canada's federal government, she added.
The biggest opportunities for expansion are in Alberta, Ms. Smith said. It has the best solar and wind resource in the country, "yet they burn more coal than the rest of Canada combined." Like Texas, the province could become a clean energy leader despite the dominance of the oil sector in the regional economy, she said.
Clean Energy Canada says that almost 27,000 people worked directly in the clean energy sector in 2013, some of them in new plants that sprung up to make wind turbine blades and towers, and solar panels and components.
Where the parties stand on clean energy
Election promises for the clean energy sector range from vague to slightly less vague.
The Conservatives have barely mentioned clean energy in their campaign, focusing instead on the need for pipelines to get oil sands crude to new markets. But the government has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and eliminating the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century.
The NDP says it will "kickstart renewable energy production" by investing in the sector, and promised it will boost energy efficient technologies. It has also pledged to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and "make polluters pay."
The Liberals have vowed to put a price on carbon and to "boost investment in green infrastructure by nearly $6-billion over the next four years, and almost $20-billion over 10 years," their platform states. The party also wants to work with the provinces to create a national clean energy strategy.
The Green Party has promised to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, put a national price on carbon, and invest in infrastructure and training to promote renewable energy and other emerging technologies.