Manitoba as the green energy capital of North America

Volker Beckmann, Board of Directors, Thompson Chamber of Commerce
Manitoba as the green energy capital of North America

With many countries ready to make commitments to electric vehicles, Manitoba has a golden opportunity to get involved in the next gold rush.

For over 30 years, Thompson, Manitoba has been a centre for winter weather testing for various transportation sectors: cars, trucks, snowmobiles, helicopters, and jet engines. Over the past few years, it has been predicted that a “disruption in transportation” is coming, as the world moves toward clean, sustainable energy use. Thompson is currently researching what needs to be done to attract new vehicle manufacturers to do their winter and cold weather testing in northern Manitoba.

Of course, not every transportation manufacturer wants extreme cold to test. Snowmobile companies often only need early snow and ice at just below freezing to test their latest sleds before they hit the race circuit in North America in November. 

Jet engine manufacturers, Rolls Royce and Pratt and Whitney, bring the largest engines in the world to Thompson for icing testing that is found at 40,000 ft above sea level, even at the equator. This is a good thing to do for your air safety and mine!

As the world moves towards clean, sustainable energy and zero emission vehicles to provide a cleaner atmosphere, many companies are making the transition to electrical and other technology to meet marketplace demand. Tesla has become the fastest growing electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer in the world. Ford, GM, and Chrysler are building their own electric platforms to compete. Fiat Chrysler is building a new EV plant in Ontario. Many countries in Europe are banning sales of gas-powered cars post 2025. 

The oil giant, Shell, will install 500,000 EV charging stations across the world in the next five years. PetroCan and Canadian Tire are already doing this along the Trans-Canada Highway from coast to coast in Canada. (Oil companies are selling electricity? The world is changing rapidly!)

U.S. President Biden’s recent announcement to cancel the Keystone pipeline project may be bad news for Alberta, but good news for Manitoba. His directive to convert 600,000 federal government fleet vehicles powered by gas and diesel to clean electric vehicles is the impetus to spur the clean energy economy. His promise to have 50,000 fast charging stations installed in the USA is the icing on the cake. There will be more hydro electricity sales required.

There is no turning back. The global trend is clear. The move to clean energy has many advantages for Thompson and Manitoba. As a 98 per cent sustainable energy province using hydroelectricity and windmills as its energy sources, Manitobans EV owners could divert some of the annual $2 billion spent on gas and diesel fuel that goes to oil suppliers elsewhere and instead keep that money for hydroelectricity in Manitoba.

Manitoba as the green energy capital of North America

The world is realizing that the less fossil fuels are used, the cleaner our atmosphere will become. Reduced travel on the road and in the air during the pandemic showed how quickly air pollution levels can be reduced. 

No doubt, this full transition may take a generation, and your old family car may be around for a while yet. Or will it? That depends on government policies, incentives, and penalties, such as those currently being implemented in Europe and China. Some countries in Europe are already using a reward and malice plan… offer incentives to buy zero emission vehicles (ZEV) and penalties if you use your old gas-powered car too long. 

Where is Manitoba in all this?

A tsunami energy shift is coming very quickly, and Manitoba should be ready. The opportunities are significant and exciting. Changes in transportation technology will require the use of Manitoba’s plentiful assets: winter weather testing facilities in Thompson for performance and durability research of vehicles and batteries, discovered and undiscovered nickel reserves that the EV and AV (autonomous vehicle) industry needs to meet the battery demand over the next 10-20 years, an abundance of clean hydroelectricity power, as well as some of the lowest electricity rates in North America. Why not a lithium battery manufacturing plant in Manitoba before the first one is built somewhere else in Canada?

These assets, collectively, can position Manitoba for a new industry in the making. Can public and private stakeholders collaborate and work on a strategic plan to develop and grow the EV and AV industry? If so, new investment, businesses, and jobs will arise and compound. Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia already have made great strides in this direction over the past ten years. Will Manitoba catch up and take the lead?

Does it make more sense to sell electricity to Manitobans to charge their EVs over night at eight cents per kilowatt hour than to sell it to the USA at-off peak demand time for 1.5 cents? (Especially, if it cost Manitoba Hydro 12 cents per Kwh to build the latest Keeyask dam in northern Manitoba). There are many considerations and some blue sky, strategic thinking is needed, because the EV and AV industry is moving at warp speed.

The economic and environmental benefits of clean energy use for Thompson, northern Manitoba, and the whole province are real. The Thompson Chamber of Commerce has just released a discussion paper titled “Manitoba as the green energy capital of North America”. It’s a bold, exciting, innovative concept that suggests numerous stakeholders can drive this action forward. Thompson wants to be part of that progress and prosperity.

Many northerners see the value in Manitoba becoming the greenest province in Canada. It could attract investment and job creation spurred by a post-pandemic recovery. 

To realize this dream we need more mining investment, development of public EV charging infrastructure, better winter weather testing facilities, and more EV user changes in Manitoba Hydro policies to boost EV sales and use. 

We need to take advantage of the many opportunities that will arise including large scale EV infrastructure projects in our rural and northern regions.

Our province can become the Green Energy Capital of North America. Let’s make it so!