Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Feds should clean up energy sector, poll says

By Mike De Souza, Postmedia News 

OTTAWA — A majority of Canadians believe the energy sector is one of the most important parts of Canada's economy, and the federal government should lead the way in "cleaning" it up by finding alternatives to oil, says a newly released internal report.
The study, produced for Natural Resources Canada by Decima Research, found that 88 per cent of Canadians were either "very concerned" (47 per cent) or somewhat concerned (41 per cent) about the environmental impact of energy use and that 87 per cent were "very concerned" (46 per cent) or "somewhat concerned" (41 per cent) about the impact of energy production.
"There is not an expectation that Canada should transition overnight, but rather start the process of moving toward more environmentally friendly (but still reasonably cost-effective and reliable) sources in the medium term, and then further up the environmental continuum in a longer term future," wrote Doug Anderson, senior vice-president for Decima Research, in the report. "They believe that this may not happen without some form of leadership, with objectives and time frames in place for this transitional process, and ideally, investments made in facilitating this transition."
The report was based on a survey of 1,800 Canadian adults in June 2010, as well as 14 focus groups in seven cities across the country. The poll results are considered accurate within 2.3 percentage points, 95 per cent of the time.
The report also found that Canadians wanted to reduce their energy consumption and improve conservation habits, with 77 per cent either "very concerned" (36 per cent) or "somewhat concerned (41 per cent) about the price they were paying for energy.
"Participants tended to recognize that this transition may cost them (as consumers and as taxpayers) some money," said the report. "But they believed that an investment in this area has the potential for them, and for the country to benefit from, both economically and environmentally in future."
But they expressed "frustration" about barriers that prevent them from using cleaner energy for home heating, electricity or transportation such as a lack of alternative providers or being able to manage the up front costs. The report said participants expected the government to provide incentives in areas such as home energy retrofits, a sector where the government is winding down an existing program.
When asked about specific energy sources, oil received the poorest score with 89 per cent of Canadians expressing concerns about its environmental impact, versus 11 per cent who were not concerned, the report said.
Nuclear and coal energy were the next on the list with 74 per cent of respondents expressing concerns about their impacts, followed by natural gas at 60 per cent. But only 18 per cent of Canadians were "very concerned" about the impact of natural gas with 42 per cent saying they were "somewhat concerned" about consumption of this energy source.
"Regardless of the concerns, focus group discussions demonstrated a desire among participants for Canada to shift more toward cleaner energy sources or production," said the report. "It was commonly mentioned that Canada's energy supplies can be increased while simultaneously protecting the environment."
In comparison, 55 per cent were either "not very concerned" or "not at all concerned" about the impact of hydroelectricity.
The results also revealed some regional splits regarding the perception of different energy sources. For example, British Columbians demonstrated a higher degree of concern about oil and coal, while Ontarians had more concerns about coal than other parts of the country.
Quebec residents were much less concerned about impacts associated with hydroelectricity, the main source of energy in the province, than the rest of the country, while Canadians from Atlantic Canada, Manitoba and Saskatchewan appeared to be less concerned than others about oil, coal or nuclear, the report said.
But Canadians from every region viewed natural resources as being more important to the economy than the manufacturing and service industries. Overall, 50 per cent of Canadians view the sector as the most important one, followed by 29 per cent for manufacturing and 19 per cent for the service industry.
The report also found that 95 per cent of Canadians agreed that the energy sector was "important for economic development and job creation," with a majority of respondents (57 per cent) correctly identifying Canada as a net exporter of energy.
"Almost all focus group participants considered Canada to be playing a significant, if not leading, role in the world energy market," said the report.
When asked to identify Canada's most important natural resource, without prompting, 46 per cent of respondents said water, followed by 20 per cent who said oil, 14 per cent who said trees, eight per cent who said natural gas, seven per cent who said minerals and metals and three per cent who said fish.

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