North American leaders sign historic trilateral renewable energy agreement

The heads of state from Canada, Mexico and the United States announced a historic partnership last week that seeks to see 50% of all North American energy come from clean generation — including hydroelectric power — by 2025.

Meeting during a one-day summit in Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Barack Obama, and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said the landmark agreement was in large part spurred by the Paris Accord, which was, when signed in December, hailed by Obama as a “turning point for the world.”

The effort will be supported by the energy ministers from each country via the North American Climate, Clean Energy and Environment Partnership Action Plan, which, amongst initiatives, includes:

  • Scaling up clean energy through aggressive domestic initiatives and policies, including Mexico’s Energy Transition Law and new Clean Energy Certificates, the U.S. Clean Power Plan and five-year extension of production and investment tax credits, and Canada’s actions to further scale up renewables, including hydro; 
  • Collaborating on cross-border transmission projects, including for renewable energy. At least six transmission lines currently proposed or in permitting review, such as the Great North Transmission Line, the New England Clean Power Link, and the Nogales Interconnection, would add approximately 5,000 MW of new cross-border transmission capacity;  
  • Conducting a joint study on the opportunities and impacts of adding more renewables to the power grid on a North American basis;
  • Enhancing trilateral collaboration on greening of government initiatives including the purchase of more efficient products, cleaner power, and clean vehicles.  Strengthening and aligning efficiency standards across all three countries, facilitating the seamless movement of products, reducing pollution, and cutting costs for consumers;
  • Promoting industrial and commercial efficiency through the voluntary ISO 50001 energy performance standard and to align a total of ten energy efficiency standards or test procedures for equipment by end of 2019; and
  • Building on North American leadership in international fora such as Mission Innovation to accelerate clean energy innovation, our energy researchers are identifying joint research and demonstration initiatives to advance clean technologies in priority areas such as smart grids and energy storage; reducing methane emissions; carbon capture, use and storage; nuclear energy; and advanced heating and cooling, including energy efficiency in building.

“North America has the capacity, resources and the moral imperative to show strong leadership building on the Paris Agreement and promoting its early entry into force,” the leaders said in a joint statement. “We recognize that our highly integrated economies and energy systems afford a tremendous opportunity to harness growth in our continuing transition to a clean energy economy. Our actions to align climate and energy policies will protect human health and help level the playing field for our businesses, households and workers.”

The opportunity for hydro created by the agreement in the U.S. — where federal legislation has already been working to encourage sector growth — did not go unnoticed by industry leaders.

“U.S. hydropower has the potential to grow significantly with only 3% of the nation’s existing dams equipped to generate power,” National Hydropower Association Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci said. “According to the U.S. Department of Energy, we could add up to 12 GW of new clean renewable capacity to these non-powered dams alone.

“In addition, there are opportunities for new pumped-storage projects, capacity additions and efficiency improvements at existing hydropower facilities, new small hydropower projects, as well as marine energy and instream hydrokinetics.”

The potential is also significant in Canada, which is already the world’s third-largest producer of hydroelectric power. Though hydro accounts for the majority of the country’s energy at 63%, Canadian Hydropower Association data shows Canada could more than double its cumulative output capacity to 160,000 MW.

“Canada is very well placed to play a very important role in this clean economy transition thanks to its abundance of renewable power,” CHA President Jacob Irving said.

Hydropower also makes up the largest percentage of renewable energy in Mexico, according to the International Hydropower Association, with hydro accounting for 12% of the country’s total generation in 2015.

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for

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