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MUN Graduate Student Immersed In Research On Community Sustainability

Mercer, a graduate student at the Environment Policy Insititute, provided an overview of renewable energy as a tool for community sustainability as one of the guest presenters at the Conference on Collaboration for Sustainable Communities on Friday at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook.

Mercer has had an interest in energy policy in this province since doing his undergrad work at Grenfell, and continues to forge ahead in that field of research after graduation from Memorial University.

Noting that his research is supported by the Social Sciences Amenities Resources Council of Canada, Mercer broke his talk down into three categories to provide those in attendance a better sense of the need to look at alternatives to fossil fuels.

Mercer said energy security is one of the big factors. He said it’s common knowledge the demand for energy on Earth continues to grow, and this will pose challenges because of our dependence on a relatively limited range of energy suppliers. In 2008, for example,  44 per cent of all the world’s oil resources came from the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and by the year 2030 this number is expected to grow to 52 per cent.

This handful of OPEC countries can have a a major impact on the price of a barrel of oil and how much oil we can access to heat our homes, he said.

“So if we deploy renewable energy sources in our communities right in our backyards, we don’t have to be so dependent on these companies and other nations to supply our energy sources,” said Mercer.

The environment also plays a key role. Mercer pointed out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded the only way to avoid the effects of climate change is to keep atmosphere concentrations of carbon below 450 parts per million. The only way that could happen is if there is a global peak in 2015, something that’s not remotely possible, he said.

Renewable energy sources can also help protect our public health, Mercer said. The International Energy Agency estimates  each year fossil fuels cause $254 billion worth of damage to our health, and this is expected to grow as the population ages.

“Renewable energy can help to at least mitigate some of these costs,” he said.

Of course, the real question is whether it can be good for the economy. Mercer is a firm believer that it can be, as the cost of such technology decreases. He drew comparison to the Holyrood thermal generating station, which costs 16-19 cents per kilowatt hour to produce energy, to either of the two wind farms in the province — St. Lawrence and Fermeuse — which costs about eight cents per kilowatt hour.

“Many renewable energy technologies are already competitive with fossil fuels.”