When the Independent Electricity System Operator released its Pathways to Decarbonization report, it knew that the document would stir debate about the best way forward to a net-zero electricity system. But the IESO also recognizes that there are some things that are going to have to happen on the path to net-zero regardless of the outcome of those debates. The agency calls these “no regret actions.” They are listed on page 7 of the report linked above and they are the things everyone who believes in getting to net-zero should be expecting the government to act on immediately:
- Accelerating current efforts to acquire new non-emitting supply, including the implementation of recent conservation and demand management directives.
- Beginning the planning, siting and environmental assessment work needed for new nuclear, long-duration storage and hydroelectric facilities, as well as transmission infrastructure, to allow for faster implementation.
- Investing in emerging technologies like low-carbon fuels. Further work is needed to determine if they can replace at scale some of the flexibility that natural gas currently provides the system.
- Galvanizing collaboration amongst stakeholders and Indigenous communities.
- Ensuring that regulatory, approval and permitting processes are ready to manage future investment at scale.
- Establishing an open, transparent and traceable process to measure progress and demonstrate the results of decisions and actions taken along the way.
These are all vitally important pieces of work to begin as soon as possible so that Ontario can continue the transition to the net-zero electricity system that will underpin the entire net-zero economy. But, as the Society of United Professionals pointed out in its response to the Pathways report, one “no regret” action missing is an energy sector workforce plan. Particularly, the Society suggests that this plan include:
- Retaining the experienced talent already in the sector to cope with the large number of recent and upcoming retirements
- Inspiring and training young people to join the energy sector in a wide range of occupations, including through models such as community benefits agreements and building partnerships with Indigenous communities
- Establishing retraining opportunities for workers in adjacent occupations in fossil fuel-dependent industries, and recruit those workers from other provinces and abroad as necessary; and
- Recognizing internationally obtained credentials so qualified newcomers to Canada can contribute within their fields of expertise.
With more than 350,000 skilled jobs already going unfilled, the ability to recruit, train and retain the people it will take to build the net-zero electricity system is likely to be one of the greatest challenges in making net-zero a reality.