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Alberta environment minister Rob Renner on campus

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Alberta's Environment Minister Rob Renner visited the University of Calgary Feb. 5 as part of his commitment to visit students, engineers and scientists working on sustainability and developing research across the province. The minister lectured in an environmental engineering class and participated in the official opening of the Situ Energy Centre's new research facility, located in an expansion of the CCIT Building. Renner sat down and spoke with the Gauntlet on Friday.

Gauntlet: What is the Alberta government's current stance on Carbon Capture and Storage?

Renner: We're still clearly committed to Carbon Capture and Storage. The financial commitment that we have is ongoing, we have made a decision on the projects that should proceed. The reason why we believe that this is the right thing to do for Alberta is two-fold.

First of all, because it applies so well to the carbon profile that we have in Alberta, we're somewhat unique in North America and certainly unique in Canada in that we have a preponderance of very large central point emitters of CO2. That gives us the opportunity that a lot of other jurisdictions don't have to apply technology like CCS because it's pretty much impossible to use CCS to capture tailpipe emissions out of [the] transportation fleet, for example.

Secondly, because we see this as an opportunity for us to commercialize, scale up this technology and share that information with other jurisdictions, [the] developing world among them. If we can work here in Alberta to prevent carbon capture and clean coal technology, think what a tremendous impact that would have in places outside of Alberta.

Gauntlet: Some people say the $2 billion is not enough that the government has put forth. Comment?

Renner: Clearly, there is always an opportunity for more dollars to go into these programs. But let's not forget the $2 billion dollars that the provincial government has put into this, has been supplemented by federal dollars, and more importantly substantial investment from the private sector as well. So, we're not talking about a $2 billion commitment, we're probably seeing through leveraging of one form or another, about six or seven billion dollars. Clearly, it needs to be a lot more than that, but you have to start somewhere. Somebody has to get the ball rolling and we believe that as a responsible energy supplier, it's incumbent upon us to get the initiative underway, to get things going.

Gauntlet: How real a possibility is it for Alberta to become a nuclear province in 10 or 20 years?

Renner: I don't know, I can't answer that. The government of Alberta has clearly stated that we will not invest public dollars into nuclear power. If the private sector wants to promote a nuclear [option]... we won't oppose it, but at the same time when the appropriate applications come forward for areas that are under provincial jurisdiction, and water's one of the primary ones, we'll apply a full and rigorous regulatory process to those applications.

One is that we're in the process of developing a new regulatory framework . . . where we can be more outcome focused, concentrate a lot more on results and how we protect the environment from the point of view of outcomes rather than inputs. As we see additional new development coming on stream, the way we have always done it in the past is not likely to be as effective because we need to consider what is the environmental footprint of one individual activity, but it has to be combined with everything else that is going on and consider the cumulative effects.

Gauntlet: Is that to say that the means are not important if you achieve your desired results?

Renner: I think it's a little bit of both. We need to understand how we're achieving those outcomes in order to determine what those outcomes are going to be. You have to understand where various emissions are coming from, what the technology is being employed that's producing the emissions, and know far enough in advance when you are beginning to approach any kind of threshold, so that you can start to direct change at the baseline. You can't wait until it's too late. You can't wake up one morning and say we should have done something yesterday because the time frames involved in these things are very long. We have to have enough understanding on what is the desired outcome and what are the inputs that will lead to that outcome so that we know five, 10 years in advance. When we are starting to approach thresholds . . . we can take action before we have a problem so we're not fixing a problem after the fact. We're ensuring that the problem never results in the first place.

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