Big Green and Big Oil square off at GLOBE sustainability summit

“It’s not going to happen, I’m sorry,” Enbridge CEO says about the likelihood of a major clean energy shift before 2050

Enbridge CEO squares off against Rocky Mountain Institute CEO at GLOBE 2014
Enbridge CEO (right) shares his views on the future of energy with the CEO of environmental-NGO Rocky Mountain Institute (left), at the GLOBE 2014 conference in Vancouver on Friday. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa.

In some testy exchanges at a "GLOBE 2014" sustainability conference in Vancouver on Friday, the CEO of Canada’s largest crude oil pipeline company squared off with influential environmental leaders over the pace of transitioning society off fossil fuels and towards clean energy.

“We all want to decrease emissions," said Al Monaco, CEO of Enbridge, but the executive doubted if greenhouse gases could be realistically slashed by 80 per cent by 2050 to avert climate warming dangers, while also meeting rising global energy demands.

"It’s not going to happen, I’m sorry,” said Monaco.

“If you look at population growth, if you look at urbanization, and the improvements in standard of living that the globe desires... the practicality is, we’re going to need fossil fuels,” said Monaco.

Elizabeth May - Green Party leader at UBC law faculty women's event

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May at a recent UBC Law event -- Twitter

But environmental stalwarts responding, did not mince words.

“As testamentary evidence of corporate irresponsibility in huge letters flashing in neon, Mr. Monaco could not have done much better,” said Elizabeth May, Green Party Leader of Canada. 

“And then he said ‘sorry’ that’s the way it is?  Well he should apologize to his own grandchildren.”

“He’s trying to get social license to build [the Northern Gateway] pipeline across northern British Columbia – and that’s his level of understanding of the climate crisis?"

"I was absolutely stunned by his level of ignorance,” said May.

But Monaco suggested the green road ahead may not be so clear.  A rapid increase in renewable power -- to charge the mass adoption of zero-emission-electric vehicles for instance -- still faces many technical obstacles. 

“If you think building pipelines is tough.…” said the Enbridge CEO, the cost and technical challenges of transmitting the power of solar, wind and geothermal plants over long distances are very difficult.

Worse, he said, once renewables surpasses 20 per cent of the grid, "you start to see a lot of instability, and that has to do with intermittency of renewables."

But there too, the pipeline executive was challenged.

“This is the single most consistent fairy tale that is being spread around,” said Jules Kortenhorst, CEO, of the influential Rocky Mountain Institute - a U.S. based environmental NGO.  He said Denmark has one of the most reliable energy grids in the world, and is run on 45 per cent renewable electricity.

“We have all the technology -- yes, it requires some smart technologies -- I.T. coupled to the grid -- but there is no issue.  The fact that you keep hearing that as you get over 20 per cent, 'you're going to get brown outs'... it's complete baloney.”

Fusion energy breakthrough?

General Fusion reactor in Burnaby

General Fusion reactor in Burnaby. Photo provided by General Fusion. 

Burnaby-based General Fusion was on the same panel as Enbridge, but promised something altogether different: saving the world.  

The company's director Jacques Besnainou said his 60-employee firm is rapidly closing in on creating a fusion reactor that can create unlimited clean power -- with zero greenhouse gases -- using only salt water.

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