Energy efficiency is B.C.’s key to kicking fossil fuel economic crutch

The current slump in oil prices is a reminder that surprises are never far away, and that our most fervent beliefs about energy just might need some fracking.

For starters, does it make sense to keep pinning our provincial and federal economic future on oil and gas extraction? Even though the oil and gas industry is still a relatively small piece of the Canadian economy, its spinoff benefits, geographical positioning and corporate and political influence have vaulted it to the top of our political agenda as the place to focus to keep our economy growing.

The dark secret of the fossil fuel industry is that its political strength is in delivering dollars to governments, not in creating jobs. Yet jobs are what people want, at least as much as they want governments to have the funds to deliver desired services. If we were mainly interested in creating jobs, we would be focused on energy efficiency and clean energy, not fossil fuel production.

An October 2014 report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) calls energy efficiency “the world’s first fuel” and says the global market for energy efficiency could be worth $310 billion.

There are, of course, the “side benefits” of improved energy security, lower household heating bills and lower greenhouse gas emissions, but even without these, energy efficiency is a contender for our attention.

A recent study published by independent consultancy Cambridge Econometrics in the U.K. found that cutting energy use by 40% by 2030 in that country would create 40,000 new jobs. A 2012 Canadian National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (yes, the organization that was axed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper) found that transitioning to a low-carbon, fuel-efficient economy would create an additional 178,000 jobs by 2050, and that investments in low-carbon goods and services would be twice as high as “business as usual.”

A 2009 U.S. study by the Center for American Progress andthe Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (The Economic Benefits of Investing in Clean Energy) came up with similar results: an economy based on clean, renewable energy creates more than three times as many jobs as an economy based on fossil fuel energy.

A Canadian study by the Acadia Center (Energy Efficiency: Engine of Economic Growth in Canada) estimates that the Canadian economy could reap a net return of $5 to $8 on every dollar spent on energy efficiency, with savings in the hundreds of billions.

The implications are significant in an era of “jobs versus the environment.” They indicate that we could meet our climate goals and still have economic growth. This doesn’t ignore the oil industry, which is already investing heavily in energy efficiency to reduce costs and meet carbon-reduction goals.

The IEA report says investment in energy efficiency, now hastened by new financing mechanisms, is already larger than investment in renewable electricity, coal, oil or gas electricity generation. BC Hydro, through its Power Smart division, is planning to meet 78% of B.C.’s future energy needs through efficiency rather than increased production.

Speaking of the upcoming transit and transportation referendum (weren’t we?), energy-efficient transportation was cited by the IEA as the biggest market opportunity for developing energy efficiency. Think of rapid transit, efficient buses, electric cars, fast trains, especially in developing countries that are choking on growing automobile congestion. As we are, here.

This shift doesn’t have to be an uphill political battle, in spite of the current referendum tug of war over new funding for lower-energy transportation choices in Metro Vancouver.

Last April, a Pembina Institute poll found that two-thirds (67%) of British Columbians surveyed agree that the province should decrease its reliance on fossil fuel exports to avoid future boom-and-bust economic cycles.

Now that we’ve been forced to put our belief in never-ending riches from fossil fuel production and exporting on pause, let’s go where the jobs are. Why wouldn’t we?

Peter Ladner ( is a co-founder of Business in Vancouver.