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Energy CEOs discuss Alberta’s carbon tax as Sask. continues to voice opposition

Pumpjacks near Halkirk, Alberta.
Pumpjacks near Halkirk, Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal

Alberta has had a carbon tax for almost five months and some companies are using it as motivation to speed up green innovation.

“How do we use this money that’s being collected from a problem that we have in service of solving that problem,” Imaginea Energy CEO Suzanne West said.

West was one of three energy CEOs, including Cenovus CEO Brian Ferguson, to address the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday during a luncheon surrounding the carbon tax.

West said Imaginea will absorb additional costs from the carbon tax, but she sees it as motivation.

“It will be an additional cost, but for us it just fires us up more to continue to go faster and find the solutions to which we won’t have to pay that carbon tax,” West said.

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It’s no secret that the Saskatchewan government staunchly opposes a carbon tax. Premier Brad Wall has repeatedly said that innovation, not taxation, is key to fighting climate change.

Energy and Resource Minister Dustin Duncan said Saskatchewan has been an innovation leader since the 1990s thanks to methods such as carbon injection for enhanced oil recovery.

“It’s ironic that Cenovus was the leading company in terms of developing that technology, and that never came about because the government never threatened or put in place a carbon tax,” Duncan said.

Back in Alberta, the CEOs were joined by Chris Ragan, chair of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, a non-partisan firm dedicated to advocating for economically-sound environmental policy.

“Overall [Alberta’s carbon tax is] a pretty well designed policy,” Ragan said.

Ragan said the tax can keep heavy emitters competitive through allowing for free emissions as long as specific targets are met.

Additionally, Ragan pointed to carbon tax revenue is being used to reduce income tax for small businesses and rebates for low-income households as ways of keeping Alberta competitive.

“A carbon price isn’t about reducing emissions tomorrow. It’s about gradually reducing carbon emissions over the next 30 years, or more,” Ragan said.

However, not everything is rosy in Wild Rose Country. Several companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, have announced their intentions to divest from Alberta and Canada’s oil industry.

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“They’re not reinvesting that money into Canada. They’re investing in the Permian Basin, they’re investing in shale plays in the United States,” Minister Duncan said.

“They’re investing in places where there is not a carbon tax, and will not be a carbon tax.”

Meanwhile, talks between the federal and provincial environment ministers continue.

The federal carbon tax is expected to be introduced in 2018.