New Developments in Ontario’s Energy Politics- Wind Concerns Ontario is Making its Mark
In the last few weeks Ontario’s provincial politics have gained significant media attention. With elections less than a year away, and Liberal support showing signs of weakening, significant attention has been given to the talking points of Premier Dalton McGuinty and the new Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak. Energy issues were consistently part of their discourse. Interestingly, it appears that the Progressive Conservative party has aligned itself with many of the anti-wind assertions made by WCO. Hudak has pledged to scrap the Feed-In Tariff program introduced in 2009 that subsidized green energy development by guaranteeing premium per kilowatt-hour prices for green sources of energy. McGuity was on the defensive, citing the huge increase in green energy produced, and planned for the near future, as a direct result of the green energy act, as well as, economic progress in the green energy sector.
Hudak had two arguments against the feed in tariff. His first criticism was that the tariff would raise energy prices too high, and his second was that Ontario needs “consistency and long range planning” in its energy policies. This is a thinly veiled criticism of the inconsistent nature of wind and solar power sources, a criticism that is made more evident by his alternative proposal to give the “green light” to nuclear and large-scale hydroelectric power projects. These two arguments are consistent with those of WCO, who have steadfastly argued that the expansion of wind power will be too costly for consumers, and is a failure as a technology due to its inconsistent production of power. This quote comes directly from the list of anti-wind arguments posted on the WCO website.
Industrial level wind energy is expensive and unreliable; other means such as conservation and using technology to improve existing power generating facilities and transmission would help meet Ontario’s power needs better. (http://windconcernsontario.wordpress.com/who-are-we/)
On October 14th in a speech to the Ontario Energy Association Hudak made a general criticism of Ontario’s current energy policies “Energy policy is about economics. And stop treating it like a social program”. As an environmental studies student and someone who is concerned about environmental issues this statement immidiately pulled up some very negative emotions. With all the talk about climate change, environmental degradation, and emphasis on sustainability we still have politicians who will not accept that energy policies need to take into account more than simply “economics”. This is astounding given the permation of environmental discourse, and experience of environmental harms in our society. What about the environment? What about the massive die offs of coral reefs around the world, oil spills and persistent contaminants, increasingly erratic weather, sea ice melting and countless other indicators of a rapidly escalating global environmental crisis? With all of these things happening is producing energy in a sustainable way with minimal environmental impacts not a worthy “social program”? Ontarians are worried about the environment and want policy deliberations to integrate serious discussions about environmental impacts, at the local and global scale.
Environmental arguments aside, the economics of green energy are actually pretty good too in states where strong green energy policies are in place. A new report from the German government's Federal Environment Ministry found that as of the end of 2009, there were 340,000 jobs in the German renewable energy industry, double the figure for 2004 (160,000 jobs). They also predict that this will continue to grow, so that by 2030, the gross employment will increase to more than half a million workers. Their modeling work also found that in the same period, the net employment effects of renewable energy sources in Germany are positive in almost all scenarios. If you can read German you can find more about this here: (http://www.bmu.de/erneuerbare_energien/downloads/doc/46538.php). The Ontario government predicts that up to 50 000 jobs will be created through the green energy act.
I think the liberals have a pretty good case when they assert that Hudak’s energy position is “looking backward”. Hudak asserts that, if elected, he would immediately give the “green light” to nuclear energy development. This is a gross over simplification of a highly complex issue. To build a nuclear power plant takes ten years, billions of dollars, and the right location where people are okay with the development, and complex geographical criteria are met. If the controversy over the placement of wind generators seems to be hot topic, I can only imagine what the development of a new nuclear facility might bring up (this is probably a reason why we have not seen a new nuclear facility come on line in Ontario in just over 20 years). Indeed Hudak is looking backwards, to a time when nuclear power was still rapidly developed in Ontario, and when alternative energy sources like wind, and solar power were not used around the world on a massive scale. The amount of new wind energy that has come online in the past few years far out strips that of nuclear.
I think WCO has influenced the stance of Hudak’s Progressive Conservative party. If growing, organized, resentment against wind power exists in rural Ontario then the PC party probably sees an opportunity to capitalize on one, voters who apparently reject the Green Energy Act and two, free, effective promotion of their new energy plan through the well organized communication mechanisms of WCO. If everyone were happy about wind power development in Ontario (or some were less mad) then Hudak’s energy policy would probably be less appealing to a lot of people. To achieve this though communities must be included in the process of wind power development, and have their concerns addressed in a meaningful way. Concessions, compromises, and compensation should be provided through healthy discussions at the pre-planning phase of every large-scale wind power development. Better yet, policies should facilitate community led wind developments as part of locally based energy production, and economic planning. If this happens, communities will more than likely oppose Hudak’s plan to scrap the Green Energy Act. Unfortunately this is not the case right now. All too often the consultation process is flawed, superficial, and subordinates local concerns and risk assessments. The government is making things up as it goes with its highly ambitious green energy policies. Policies need to adapt to get communities involved in a meaningful and productive way to make the story of wind development an undeniably positive one. If they can do this Hudak will have a much harder time defending his energy policies in the coming months and WCO will be a flash in the pan (perhaps a necessary one at this juncture?) on the long road to a sustainable energy future in Ontario.
Thanks for reading!