In Quebec, people have long tended to take our collective energy wealth of renewable electricity for granted, and that is understandable. After all, we can be proud of what has been accomplished by the Hydro-Québec team. Despite some hiccups over the decades, the results are largely positive.
Rethinking our relationship with energy
Many were shocked to hear Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon mention the term “energy sobriety” when explaining that Quebecers will have to come to review their electricity consumption habits. Yet while the term may seem new to us, it is nothing new in many countries, and has been for decades. Pricing modulated according to the time of day is already applied almost everywhere on the planet, and not only in developing countries.
Even here in Quebec, energy sobriety has often been discussed in the past.
– In 1995, the public debate on energy launched by the government of Jacques Parizeau and chaired by Alban d’Amours was a moment of significant discussion in the history of energy in Quebec where it was then a question of economy energy (energy sobriety), energy efficiency, renewable energies and transition away from fossil fuels. It was in the wake of this broad debate that the Régie de l’énergie was created1the Economic Regulation Court whose jurisdiction extended to the electricity, natural gas, petroleum products and steam sectors.
– In 2013, the commission on energy issues in Quebec2, launched by the government of Pauline Marois and co-chaired by Normand Mousseau and Roger Lanoue, made it possible to organize public consultation sessions in 16 cities in 15 regions of Quebec where 460 briefs were presented. At the end of its work, it clearly emerged that “Quebec’s main energy challenge is no longer to ensure security of supply. Rather, our society must resolutely focus on reducing the consumption of fossil hydrocarbons and on optimal use of the various forms of energy in order to maximize the economic benefits for the population, businesses and regions, while respecting principles of sustainable development”.
– In 2016, the Couillard government launched its “2030 energy policy”3 where it was clearly stated that “energy efficiency, energy substitution and behavioral change are the three pillars of a successful energy transition”. This is how the objective of reducing the quantity of petroleum products consumed by 40% between 2013 and 2030 was set.
However, between 2013 and 2019 (last year pre-COVID-19), the quantity of petroleum products consumed increased by 5%4. During this period, net sales of gasoline increased by 6% and those of diesel by 12%.5
However, if the present government speaks these days of electrical energy sobriety, it does not mention anywhere energy sobriety vis-à-vis hydrocarbons. It is also revealing that the committee on the economy and energy transition does not include the Minister of Transport, when a significant part of the Quebec problem in terms of energy consumption and waste comes precisely from transport.
If the waste of electrical energy is certainly a problem, the waste of hydrocarbons is an even more critical problem!
In 2019, 54% of the energy consumed in Quebec came from hydrocarbons. However, this import cost Quebec approximately $465 million per month and represented 48% of our trade deficit… while having a harmful impact in terms of atmospheric polluting emissions, GHG emissions and health.
Encouraging carpooling, car sharing, public transit, active transportation, the electrification of transportation and discouraging the acquisition of gas-guzzling vehicles, solo cars and urban sprawl will be essential measures for a government that really wants advancing energy sobriety.
If the government really wants to adopt an energy sobriety plan, it would be essential that it include all energy sources.