Moving to net zero: Manitoba Hydro ready to meet Canadian federal guidelines
Manitoba’s electricity system already one of the lowest GHG-intensive grids in Canada
With abundant clean, renewable hydropower, Manitoba is poised to lead Canada’s fight against climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The Government of Canada released a strengthened climate strategy just before the new year. The 80-page document, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, lays out a plan to meet or exceed Canada’s 2030 Paris Agreement emissions reduction target (a 30 per cent reduction in GHG emissions from 2005 levels) and establish the building blocks to get to net-zero by 2050.
“This is the most significant climate change strategy ever introduced by a federal government in Canada,” said Kristel Arnold, Energy Policy Officer for Manitoba Hydro.
“It includes a plan to increase the federal backstop GHG price to $170 per tonne CO2e by 2030. It also proposes aligning vehicle emissions standards with the most stringent standards in the U.S. at either the state or federal level.”
Though it hasn’t always been intentional – until recently the low emissions from hydropower generation were more a byproduct of development than a strategic choice – Manitoba’s power infrastructure has always been largely GHG-free, with most generating stations leveraging the natural flow of water in the province as fuel instead of higher-emissions power sources like fossil fuels.
“At Manitoba Hydro, we’re proud of our climate change performance,” said Lorne Midford, Vice-President of Asset Planning & Delivery for Manitoba Hydro. “The development of hydropower over the past 110 years has put us head and shoulders ahead of other regions in having a virtually non-emitting electricity system.”
Under proposed legislation introduced in Canadian Parliament on November 19, national targets for the reduction of GHG emissions would be set for 2030, 2035, 2040, and 2045, with the goal of national net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. GHG emission reduction plans, progress reports, and assessment reports would need to be tabled in Parliament for each year to help ensure transparency in meeting these targets.
Lowest GHG emissions of electrical utilities throughout Canada
Using the latest national figures for 2019, Manitoba Hydro’s electrical operations are among the least GHG-intensive of all electrical utilities in Canada, emitting approximately 0.88 tonnes of GHGs per gigawatt-hour (t/GWh) of power generated. For context, the 2018 GHG emission intensity of electrical generation across Canada as a whole was approximately 120 t/GWh, with Ontario at 29 t/GWh and Québec 1.3 t/GWh.
On a local scale, GHG emissions from Manitoba Hydro’s electricity and natural gas operations are also less than one per cent of total provincial GHG emissions, and the province contributes less than three per cent of Canada’s national GHG emissions. Total GHG emissions from Manitoba Hydro’s operations in 2019 were 0.11 megatonnes. This equates to Manitoba Hydro contributing less than 0.1 per cent of national electrical generation emissions.
Adding more clean energy to the grid
The first unit at the Keeyask Generating Station went into commercial service on February 16, 2021 adding another source of clean, renewable electricity to Manitoba Hydro’s energy supply.
“First power from Keeyask builds on Manitoba Hydro’s enviable position in the low carbon world of the future,” said Jay Grewal, Manitoba Hydro’s President & CEO. “Nearly 98 per cent of our electricity is already generated using clean, renewable, and virtually carbon-free hydropower – a huge advantage for our province as North America moves to reduce carbon emissions.”
Manitoba Hydro displaces more than it produces
Midford said when the estimated GHG emissions displaced in jurisdictions outside the province are taken into account, Manitoba Hydro’s electricity exports (where those exports displace fossil-fueled electricity generation), help displace more GHG emissions than the utility produces.
The total amount displaced: about seven megatonnes CO2e annually.
“While reductions are counted in the regions where they occur, it’s important to remember that from the perspective of the earth’s atmosphere, it doesn’t matter where GHG reductions are located,” Midford said. “From that point of view, we’re making a meaningful difference in helping mitigate global climate change.”
Working toward further improvement
Climate change has been on Manitoba Hydro’s radar since the 1980s. The utility’s strategy to respond to climate change includes further reducing global GHG emissions by enhancing the generation output of existing generating stations and continually looking at how wind, solar and a wide array of emerging electricity technologies such as batteries and bioenergy systems may fit in future energy supply planning.
As the energy landscape evolves, Manitoba Hydro also continues to monitor and plan for trends in the electrification of transportation, as well as the adoption of heat pumps, geothermal systems and other energy-related technologies. The corporation also periodically publishes a Climate Change Report to provide insight into its response to climate change, with the most recent in 2020.
Sharing expertise to affect change
Manitoba Hydro staff participate in climate change working groups to share ideas with professionals both inside and outside the energy industry in Canada and the U.S. on topics related to physical climate impacts and adaptation in addition to GHG reduction strategies. For more than 25 years, the utility has lent technical and market expertise to support the development, evaluation, and implementation of standards, regulations, legislation, voluntary programs and markets that aim to reduce GHG emissions.
“It’s all part of our efforts to help ensure we continue to be a climate change leader in the utility industry as we move towards a net zero world,” said Midford.
Manitoba Hydro’s full 96-page Climate Change Report (PDF, 9.9 MB).