COLUMN: This week has only reinforced our need for fossil fuels 

But I also do not want to freeze in the dark.  

Marty Taylor crosses the finish line at the Hypothermic 1/2 Marathon held at Highlands Golf Club in Edmonton on Sunday morning, February 3, 2019. Temperatures at the time were around -40C degrees with the wind chill. Larry Wong / POSTMEDIA NETWORK

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If you have been on the social medias this past week, I can guarantee you have seen two types of posts.

1) People telling you how cold it is, because, you know, surprise we live in Alberta.

2) Some variation of the meme that goes “Just wanted to remind everyone who is against pipelines and oil sands to shut your furnaces off today. It’s a little chilly out wouldn’t want you using any of the products you protest against.”

I do admit, the meme makes me chuckle, though a little misinformed. Still there is a point to be made.

It should not be an us against them argument, because really, we are all in this together. The keynote here comes down to reliability of non-carbon energy sources. To be blunt, it is lacking.

From the federal government’s own Natural Resources Canada website on its page on wind energy in cold climates, it underlines the issue of icing between the months of November to April. Icing leads to reduced power output and increased rotor loads which can lead to equipment failure. Now there are deicing packages and other technology available that will keep some turbines running to minus-30 Celsius temperatures. But what about when the temperatures drop consistently below that, as they did earlier this week? Even with the turbines in operation, there is a drop in production. A cross-Canada study showed a cold weather loss of 959 GWh each year, representing lost revenue of $113 million annually.

Solar power is actually more efficient at minus-25 than plus-45 degrees, but my mind struggles with the math on the number of solar panel fields and arrays needed to power a small city like Spruce Grove or Stony Plain.

When it comes to heating those homes, just about everyone in Alberta is still running on natural gas, which burns cleaner, but with much of it still mined through multi-stage fracturing — or fracking — it is still highly controversial.

It’s not just Alberta hurting, our fair-weathered hypocritical friends in B.C. were bracing for record-breaking demands on BC Hydro with their own cold snap. Meanwhile, energy companies in Michigan and California were telling their residents, in the middle of the polar vortex to cut back on their energy usage. Because freezing is an option.

The problem is exacerbated with the demand for electricity going up. A lot. Chinese and Indian markets are expected to continue their rapid growth as they emerge from third world status and to meet that demand, China especially, is turning to coal. Our old friend.

Vehicles only hit the accelerator on our thirst for petrol, especially with the explosion of the auto industry in Asia. North America is taking strides in replacing traditional gas guzzlers with battery powered tin cans, but the cold weather reliability is still not there. Tesla Model 3 owners reported their battery life dropped like a rock in the cold weather, according to a Financial Post article. Other brands and models like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt had a similar issue. A CNBC story on Tuesday reported their lithium ion batteries are at their peak range when it is about 21 C out. Minus-35 is a long way from that.

I am not ignorant to the fact that humans have a negative impact on the climate, though I question to what level, and how much Canada should be held responsible in the shadows of giants like the U.S., China, and Russia.

The fact is we are a long way from shaking the shackles of fossil fuels. Pipelines are going to play a critical role in moving those fuels. You can only overtax a rail line so much while still failing to meet demands and creating an even larger carbon footprint.

As caretakers of this planet we should always be striving for a cleaner, greener existence. Take care of the environment and it will take care of you, and all those bumper stickers and warm, fuzzy thoughts.

But I also do not want to freeze in the dark.

It is easy to take a green position when you are organizing protests on Vancouver Island. It is a little different when minus-20 is a real threat for six months of the year, let alone those annual two weeks of minus-35.

 

Jaldrich@postmedia.com 

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