Lost in Transmission: A Constitutional Approach to Achieving a Nationwide Net Zero Electricity System
59:3 Osgoode Hall Law Journal 629 (2022)
34 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2021 Last revised: 22 Feb 2023
Date Written: September 1, 2021
Canada has announced plans to meet its Paris Agreement commitments on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieve net zero by 2050, but standing in the way of these ambitions is an electricity crisis. The crisis is provincially balkanized electricity systems with a dearth of interprovincial transmission lines, and the impacts are three-fold: first, the country is divided into renewable have- and have-not provinces, with some jurisdictions generating more hydropower than they need while others struggle to wean themselves off coal and natural gas. Second, the lack of interprovincial transmission is a deterrent to private investment in renewable energy projects, which is holding Canada back from meeting its climate commitments in a way that provides major economic gains. Third, much of the country is off grid, relying on expensive, unreliable, and dangerous diesel fuel for power.
A first step in addressing these issues is to create a new market for interprovincial zero-emission power sales by exercising federal jurisdiction over the permitting of interprovincial transmission lines, in order to encourage private companies to enter the market and remove some of the financial burden from provinces. Given the national and provincial goals of reducing power from coal-fired power plants and the urgency of energy access issues in many parts of the country, it is time for the federal government to assume at least some of its infrastructure transmission jurisdiction to ensure just transition to safe, renewable power sources and promote investment in renewable projects across the country. To that end, this Article will lay out the Constitutional basis for federal jurisdiction over interprovincial power lines, as well as the Constitutional limits on that jurisdiction that will keep provincial grids under provincial control.
Keywords: energy law, environmental law, climate change, electricity, renewable energy
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