solar power

The Promise of Thermal Solar Power & Activist and Educator Sheila Watt-Cloutier

Solar thermal power tower


This Week’s Show

Today we have an exclusive interview with Order of Canada recipient and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier. She explains the impact of climate change on Arctic communities and the challenge of creating political change. We also take a look at biodiversity, and why more than just the number of species in an area is important. And to finish things off, we have an in depth look at thermal solar power. These days most people’s attention is focused on solar voltaics, but collecting heat directly from sun light shows enormous potential and all over the world solar thermal power plants are beginning to pop up.

Download this week’s show.

News Headlines

1) Total Upgrader Approved

On September 16th, the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board issued its decision on the TOTAL application for a 300,000 barrel per day oil sands upgrader in Strathcona county. The ERCB, in its 62-page decision report, has conditionally approved the application for the upgrader, despite Alberta Environment’s cumulative effects framework which seems to have little teeth in managing the air and watershed’s in the industrial heartland area.

The conditions placed on the approval include; achieving a sulphur recovery rate of 99.5 percent within six months of project commencement, conducting a full-scale emergency response exercise prior to project start-up, submitting an emergency response plan, conducting a number of sound monitoring plans and surveys and ensure that the construction of the upgrader begins by 2016.

The decision report also included a number of recommendations to Alberta Environment around monitoring plans and data gathering, allowing the ERCB to wipe their hands of those responsibilities. This highlights the disconnection between the ERCB and Alberta Environment in their approval processes.

The decision comes in the face of significant resistance from local land owners, who believe that the approval should incorporate the community standards for downstream and emergency evacuation procedures, and not just the ERCB’s.

The members of Citizens for Responsible Development live within 20 kilometers of the proposed site and opposed the project at the public hearing held in June of this year with concerns over health impacts, air pollution, risks to water supply, light and noise pollution and land use.

2) Canada’s Freshwater Supply in Decline

A new report from statistics Canada has reported on the freshwater supply and demand of Canada, with some troubling results. It shows that Canada’s renewable freshwater supply has dropped dramatically over the last three decades in the heavier populated areas in the country.

The report indicated that since 1971 the water yield in Southern Canada has decreased  by 8.5 percent. The annual absolute decrease in water supply is equivalent to the volume supplied to residential consumers each year.

The prairies in particular were impacted significantly, which showed to have the lowest water yield and highest variability in water yield.

The report also indicated that 90% of withdrawn water volumes were used to support industrial and commercial activities. Most of those volumes were consumed by the thermal electric power generation industry. Only 9 percent of withdrawn volumes were used by the residential sector and 56 percent of that volume was supplied by utility water systems.

The report may be hard to stomach during the current period of high precipitation in Alberta, however it is clear that this indicates an increasing issue of water supply for Canada on a whole.

According to the Calgary Herald, John Pomeroy – director of centre for Hydrology at the University of Saskatchewan – indicated that it is clearly climate warming. “As Canada warms, evaporation generally increases due to shorter winters” Pomeroy said in an email. He went on to say that across the Prairie Provinces, ground water and pond levels have dropped for most of the last 25 years and the great lakes have seen more ice free periods and longer evaporation periods.

3) New Environmental Charges Against Suncor

Suncor is facing environmental charges for the third time in just over two years.

The oilsands company faces nine charges because it allegedly failed to comply with its Water Act licence and approval and for providing misleading information to Alberta Environment about stormwater run-off at its Voyageur upgrader site.

In 2008, the company also faced a charge for failing to provide information to Alberta Environment about a contravention.

It’s not surprising that Alberta Environment would aggressively pursue charges against a company that failed to provide it with information, which is a cornerstone of their compliance system, said Cindy Chiasson, executive director of the Environmental Law Centre.

“Generally speaking, pieces around timely reporting, failing to report and validity of information, that’s the kind of thing Alberta Environment tends to pursue pretty vigorously because their system all ties around industry self-monitoring and self-reporting,” she said. “So if you’ve got sliding there, then to some extent the system all falls apart.”

Chiasson said Alberta Environment’s track record shows that when multiple charges are laid they will ensure that if there is a plea bargain that there are guilty pleas on the company’s failure to report.

Suncor says that in both cases there were fairly complex regulatory processes in play. Spokesman Brad Bellows said they believed they were in compliance with the regulations at the time, therefore did not provide the regulator with a report saying they were not in compliance. “Our belief was that we were on side.”

Suncor’s first court appearance on the current charges is set for Nov. 3 in Fort McMurray.


1) Sheila Watt-Cloutier on the reality of climate change in the Arctic

Sheila Watt-Cloutier is a Canadian activist, teacher, and advocate for indigenous rights. In 2007 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work drawing attention to the human rights impacts of climate change. With a focus on solutions, Sheila Watt-Cloutier  brings us to the realities of the Arctic, where Inuit today face profound challenges to their environment, their economy, their health and their cultural well-being. The challenges they face are clearly connected to the industries we support, the disposable world we have become, and the non-sustaining policies we create. Because her Inuit culture faces the most extreme challenges of globalization, Watt-Cloutier speaks from firsthand experience and couples that with her extensive experiences as a global leader. Drawing upon her ancient culture, and speaking from a position of strength, not victimhood, she helps audiences find common ground. Terra Informa correspondent Marcus Peterson gives us an exclusive interview with Watt-Cloutier while she came through Edmonton recently for a presentation entitled, “Everything is Connected: Environment, Economy, Foreign Policy, Sustainability, Human Rights and Leadership in the 21st Century”.

2) Ecobabble: What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity is a term we hear a lot, but there’s more to it than simply the number of species in a particular area.  Rebecca Rooney defines the term for us in this week’s ecobabble.

3) Solar thermal power

The most important supplier of energy for earth is the sun. The whole of life depends on the sun’s energy.  It is the starting point for the chemical and biological processes on our planet.  At the same time solar radiation is the most environmentally friendly form of all energies –all life on earth already adapted to its abundance- and it can be used in many ways that we have not yet begun to explore. This week, Brett Tegart looks at solar thermal forms of power generation and how they can change the way we look at electricity both on earth and in orbit.