I have been arguing in these posts that a fundamental shift away from fossil fuel use and toward low–emission intensity electricity should be an integral part of Canada’s emission reduction strategy. This is easily doable, especially in the transportation sector, where electric powered vehicles are truly the wave of the future.
In fact, the shift is already underway and has been for some time. Toronto’s electric-powered subways and streetcars have carried untold millions of passengers for decades. Toronto’s air is clogged from the exhaust of fossil-fueled motor vehicles—imagine how much worse it would be if the city’s subways and streetcars were diesel-powered.
In view of this, the City of Ottawa’s plan to build an electric light-rail artery into downtown is not just smart growth. It also embodies a visionary and practical approach to reducing transportation emissions. The electric power that will propel this train—if the project becomes a reality—will by the time the train begins running be more than three-quarters emission free (provided Ontario, the jurisdiction that provides power to Ottawa, indeed rehabilitates or replaces its currently laid up nuclear capacity).
When hybrid electric vehicles become widespread (as experts predict they will), I can see city by-laws requiring drivers to operate vehicles on electric power within city limits. Combined with electrified mass transit, transportation emissions will drop like a stone.
There are four short weeks to go before the Ottawa municipal elections, and things are already getting tense. The single biggest issue is the electric light rail plan. Only one candidate, Mayor Bob Chiarelli, supports it. Federal treasury board president John Baird, whose government promised $200 million for transit in Ottawa, now wants a new review of the plan before he forks over the cash. Regardless of the partisan politics at play here, electrified mass transit must be part of any plan to reduce emissions. The Harper government should ultimately support Ottawa’s electric light rail plan.
In the mean time, let’s hope the voters of Ottawa choose it. Their children and grandchildren will thank them for it.