One more day to beg: Movember campaign ends tomorrow at midnight

My team at Corporate Knights — my new gig these days — has raised more than $1,000 to go toward prostate cancer research, part of the much-celebrated Movember campaign. It’s not bad, but not nearly as much as we had hoped. This is my last ditch effort to tap into my Clean Break network for some 11th-hour donations.

If you’d like to donate (of course you do) please visit our special donations page. The money goes toward a terrific cause. Most of the men in our office are now sporting not-so-flattering facial hair. Myself, I usually have a goatee on display so my participation was more about what I shaved off than what I grew. That said, I am now reminded how much I look like my father — and man, is he a stylin’ dude.

 

Oil and gas delivery giant Enbridge Inc. makes first solar tech investment, throws $10 million into Morgan Solar

Gotta say, I found this a surprising one. Enbridge Inc., the Calgary-based oil/natural gas pipeline and delivery company, is investing $10 million in concentrated solar PV manufacturer Morgan Solar, which is based in Toronto. I say surprising because Enbridge, while it has invested in solar, wind and geothermal projects before — the kind that generate immediate cash flow and come with an acceptable level of risk — has never really put its money behind a greentech play, with the exception of fuel cells. It may be true that $10 million is couch change for this multibillion-dollar corporate giant, but keeping in mind this $10 million could have been spent elsewhere, this is an intriguing move by Enbridge.

Does it want to be in the same club as integrated oil company Cenovus, which has captured many headlines related to its venture investments in everything from fusion power to water desalination technology? Not sure, but perhaps this is the first of more tech investments to come — as sign that corporate capital is playing a more important role in a country where venture capital is hard to come by.

Morgan Solar, mind you, hasn’t had a tough time raising capital. In March 2011 it aimed to raise up to $25 million (U.S.), but with Enbridge joining the party the round is oversubscribed at $28.8 million. The interest in Morgan Solar is understandable. It has developed an inexpensive and innovative light-guide solar optic that captures and directs incoming sunlight into a tiny, high-efficiency, finger-nail sized PV chip, achieving a balance of cost, efficiency, weight, and low-profile (i.e. the system is really thin) that may be unrivaled in the market. The company says its systems cost less to build, ship, deploy and maintain than competing technologies. Indeed, it’s bold enough to say that its Sun Simba product will offer a lower Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) “than solar technologies on the market today, or known to be under development.”

It should be pointed out that Enbridge owns three solar facilities that together represent 100 megawatts of capacity. Most of that comes from its 80 MW Sarnia Solar Project, which until recently was the largest operating PV facility in the world. It’s unclear whether Enbridge eyes using Morgan Solar’s CPV systems in future projects, but the potential certainly exists for collaboration on smaller demonstration projects. The reality, however, is that Enbridge has so far let others take on solar development risks. It then steps in and buys finished, operational projects that are already generating cash.

Morgan has other partners in the mix, some of them strategic. Iberdrola S.A., one of the world’s largest renewable-energy utilities, is a strategic investor, as is Nypro Inc., a contract manufacturer specializing in precision injection molding. Nypro, for example, makes the light-guide optic for Morgan Solar.

Morgan Solar, by the way, was recently named — for the second time — to Corporate Knights’ Next 10 list of most promising Canadian cleantech companies.

Some letters from readers you just have to publish… welcome to my world

I was expecting nasty letters from my Clean Break column today but I found this one quite entertaining. Figured I’d post it here to give readers a sense of what the world is up against. Enjoy:

——————————————–

I am wondering which planet you are living on because your article shilling for a carbon tax on Ontarions to deal with the fiscal challenges is out-of-touch with reality and arrogant.

It is obvious that you are another well-paid, fat-cat liberal with a generous expense account because it is so easy for you to push for such a dangerous, asinine, and egregious policy while you are living in your ivory-tower world. There is no doubt in the minds of readers that you and your dangerous articles are generously funded by the Green Lobby (Wind & Solar) industrial-journalism complex. People like you masquerading as reporters and journalists are the proverbial pig-at-the-trough who always want tax dollars wasted on expensive and unproven schemes and technologies.

At a time of the most severe recession in one’s memory, job losses, and financial misery for millions of people, such an approach would be financially disastrous for taxpayers, consumers, and the province. Instead of promoting growth, this insidious new tax will simply flip the province back into a prolonged slump or stalled recovery. Prices of gasoline and all commodities will shoot up if a carbon tax is introduced and this will kill-off all consumer spending and consumer confidence. Such a new carbon tax will increase and prolong employment instead of creating new jobs.

Ontarions currently pay one of the highest taxes in the world for an out-of-touch, fraudulent, kleptocratic, tax-and-spend government which blows away hard-earned taxpayer dollars on welfare bums, labor unions, special interest groups, corporate welfare queens, and anyone who has a loud megaphone in their hand.

It is easy for fat-cat and absurd journalist like you who smokes rare cuban cigars, eats caviar, and drinks the finest French champagne (all on a well-funded expense account with no limits) to sit in your exalted ivory towers dreaming about and advocating for all kinds of new taxes.

I do not ever trust any government and especially this government of Dalton McGuinty (who has a record of lying and broken promises) to impose a new tax and cut income taxes later, as you are suggesting in this article. Government is like a drug addict which wants just more new taxes like another high.

The current government is like a vermin or parasite which works on the backs of taxpayers instead of working for taxpayers.

The legacy of the current Fiberal Premier is tarnished and he will go in history as one of the most incompetent, corrupt, and prevaricating Premier of Ontario.

Taxpayers will openly rebel against this government if any more new taxes are imposed. People are fed and sick of feeding this bloated, corrupt, and arrogant government.

So, in the future, before you write any more reprehenisble articles advocating for new taxes, think about the impact of your asinine articles on the pocketbooks and wallets of ordinary people.

It is because of such stupid articles like this that I have cancelled my subscription to the paper edition of the Toronto Star. I would love to see this Liberal Star newspaper go into oblivion.

Instead of advocating for new taxes to deal with fiscal challenges, I would strongly suggest to you and challenge you to write even one article advocating for lower taxes, smaller government, a reduced bureaucracy, government services outsourced to the private sector, and less waste, spending, and corruption in government. I doubt it if you have even contemplated such an article. 

All the best to you personally but wish you the worse in your career,

Canadian who is disgusted with the kleptocratic governments.

Will miss you Mr. Layton, but why on earth did you so vigorously oppose a carbon tax?

My Clean Break column today addresses a grudge I and many others have held against federal NDP leader Jack Layton, who passed away in August. Layton, as terrific a political leader he was, got it wrong when he adamantly opposed the suggestion during the 2008 election that Canada implement a national carbon tax. Layton favoured a cap-and-trade system, and as a result assisted Prime Minister Stephen Harper in attacking then Liberal leader Stephane Dion and his visionary (and controversial) Green Shift plan.

Fact is, Layton and Dion supported a price on carbon — that should have been more important than the details on how that price was created. By making it an election issue, Layton helped sabotage any momentum to price carbon in Canada, making it a toxic issue that to this day no federal politician without suicidal tendencies will touch.

My argument is that we need to get over this fear of a carbon tax (or carbon pricing in general), create a discussion about it — both nationally and in Ontario — and recognize how putting a price on carbon can help get our fiscal house in order and strengthen an otherwise weak climate strategy.

See column below:

——————————————————–

Tyler Hamilton

It’s hard to hold a grudge against Jack Layton.

Passionate. Likeable. Well-intentioned. Caring. These are all words to describe the former federal NDP leader.

He had a lot of things right, but many still don’t forgive Layton for helping to sabotage a proposal in 2008 that called for the creation of a national tax on carbon emissions.

The idea came from then Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, who called his plan “the Green Shift.” Money collected from a carbon tax would be used to lower personal income taxes and invest in social and environmental programs, ultimately reducing Canada’s dependency on fossil fuels and assisting the shift to a low-carbon economy.

Layton aggressively attacked the plan, contributing to a Liberal implosion at the polls and a Conservative re-election that gave us our current do-little climate strategy.

It’s not that Layton opposed putting a price on carbon; he just favoured a different approach — a complex cap-and-trade system that would let the market set the price and let the government set and adjust the emissions cap.

And it’s not like Dion did himself any favours. He had a decent policy in his hands but he did a horrible job of selling it to the public and failed miserably in defending it against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s campaign of smear and fear.

The bitter pill is that Dion and Layton both had the goal of putting a price on carbon. Both saw it as necessary for making our industries more resource-productive while achieving meaningful emissions reductions and fulfilling international climate obligations.

But many blame Layton for playing the spoiler, and as a result, for taking talk of a serious carbon-pricing plan off the table, where it rests toxic to this day.

“You basically can’t speak of it in political company,” says Alex Wood, senior director of policy and markets at Sustainable Prosperity, a green economy think tank in Ottawa. “There’s no political home for it.”

Not federally, at least. British Columbia took the big step in 2008 with the same kind of revenue-neutral carbon tax proposed by Dion. As controversial as it was and continues to be in many circles, it hasn’t plunged the B.C. economy into an abyss.

Quite the opposite. The province now has the lowest per-capita consumption of gasoline in the country and the lowest income tax rates. Its GDP has grown over the past three years at a time when the global economy is struggling, and the expectation is that B.C. will outperform the Canadian provincial average in 2012.

Carbon emissions, meanwhile, appear to be heading in the right direction. Next year the tax will rise to $30 per tonne of CO2 equivalent emissions, pulling in nearly $1 billion for the province, which will redistribute that revenue mostly through income tax cuts.

Each year that passes makes it harder to kill the B.C. carbon tax, says Wood. “No government will be able to come in and say we’re cutting this but we’ve got to raise your taxes. Politically it’s achieved an almost untouchable status.”

So when Harper insisted Dion’s plan would “screw everybody,” as The Economist magazine recently reminded us, it’s instructive to look at B.C. as we head into climate talks next week in Durban, South Africa, and ask: are we collectively getting screwed by not having a national carbon-pricing scheme?

We have a sense of the economic costs of not acting. The independent National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy estimated in September that climate impact costs for Canada would reach $5 billion annually by 2020 and as high as $43 billion a year by 2050.

Australia, a kindred spirit to Canada with similar resource-dependent industries, has seen that writing on the wall. It decided after years of Canadian-style foot-dragging that a carbon price is good for the country’s long-term economic health.

It is now poised to introduce a national carbon tax in July 2012 that will morph into a cap-and-trade system after a few years. The policy is part of a larger economic reform initiative aimed at making the transition to a clean energy economy.

An optimist might hope that Australia’s move will rub off on Canada, which could use the revenues from a carbon tax (or cap-and-trade system) to help get its fiscal house in order. It could generate tens of billions of dollars annually by 2020 that could go toward lowering income taxes, reducing the deficit, or boosting investment in climate-friendly public infrastructure projects.

If not federally, maybe it will rub off on Ontario. Saddled with what’s expected to be a $16-billion deficit this year, the province could benefit by slapping a price on carbon.

That was the plan in 2008 when Ontario joined the Western Climate Initiative, a group of Canadian provinces and U.S. states (including California) trying to set up a regional carbon cap-and-trade system. But six U.S. states recently pulled out and Ontario, which was supposed to launch on Jan. 1, is now waffling.

Maybe former TD Bank economist Don Drummond can talk some sense into Premier Dalton McGuinty. Drummond is expected to issue a report in January that will advise the McGuinty government on how to proceed with economic reforms.

Drummond is a fan of carbon pricing, particularly the idea of a carbon tax, having endorsed Dion’s Green Shift plan for the benefits it could bring to the Canadian economy.

It’s not entirely impossible that Drummond might try to stimulate talk of an Ontario carbon tax for Ontario, as toxic as the two words might be.

No thanks to Jack.

But seriously, isn’t it time we had an honest and adult discussion about it?

Tyler Hamilton, author of Mad Like Tesla, writes weekly about green energy and clean technologies. Contact him at tyler@cleanbreak.ca.

A century of falling commodity prices undone in eight years, and the next 20 look no better: McKinsey

Just looking at a new article (free registration required) from global consultancy McKinsey about the state of world commodities and the outlook looks bleak, to say the least.

“Our research shows that during the past eight years alone, (commodity prices) have undone the decline of the previous century, rising to levels not seen since the early 1900s,” according to McKinsey. “In addition, volatility is now greater than at any time since the oil-shocked 1970s because commodity prices increasingly move in lockstep. Our analysis suggests that they will remain high and volatile for at least the next 20 years if current trends hold—barring a major macroeconomic shock—as global resource markets oscillate in response to surging global demand and inelastic supplies.”

The report talks of the surging demand for energy, food, metals and water as 3 billion new middle-class citizens emerge over the next two decades. In India calorie intake will rise 20 per cent per person, while in China per-capita meat consumption is expected to rise 60 per cent. While such dramatic growth of consumption isn’t unusual historically, and while we have managed to accommodate that growth in the past, McKinsey says things are very different this time around:

There are three differences today. First, we are now aware of the potential climatic impact of carbon emissions associated with surging resource use. Without major changes, global carbon emissions will remain significantly above the level required to keep increases in the global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius—the threshold identified as potentially catastrophic.

Second, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to expand the supply of commodities, especially in the short run. While there may not be absolute resource shortages—the perceived risk of one has historically spurred efficiency-enhancing innovations—we are at a point where supply is increasingly inelastic. Long-term marginal costs are increasing for many resources as depletion rates accelerate and new investments are made in more complex, less productive locations.

Third, the linkages among resources are becoming increasingly important. Consider, for example, the potential ripple effects of water shortfalls at a time when roughly 70 percent of all water is consumed by agriculture and 12 percent by energy production. In Uganda, water shortages have led to escalating energy prices, which led to the use of more wood fuels, which led to deforestation and soil degradation that threatened the food supply.

So where do we go from here? McKinsey, citing forthcoming research, says better resource productivity can maybe meet more than 20 per cent of the forecast 2030 demand for energy, steel, water and land. Higher prices over the long-term will also create incentives for “breakthrough” innovations that could reduce carbon emissions. But even then, a heck of a lot more needs to be done, the consultancy argues — and it won’t be easy. “Major policy, behavioral, and institutional barriers must be addressed,” it argues. “Yet as we enter a new era for commodities, there’s little choice but to act.”

Action. Now isn’t that a novel concept. Sure beats denial.