December 8, 2008

Green Energy Act in Ontario

CANADA - A coalition of environmental, farming, community and native groups are urging the Ontario government to create a green energy act for the province.

Such legislation is urgently needed, they argue, if Ontario has any hope of stimulating the economy, tackling climate change, shutting down its coal plants and staying competitive with its neighbours in the United States under a decidedly pro-green Obama-led administration.

The coalition envisions legislation that would make renewable energy and conservation a priority in electricity-system planning, streamline regulation and the way power is purchased, push enabling "smart-grid" technologies, establish low-cost project financing and protect low-income consumers.

All of this would be with an eye to growing a green economy in Ontario that supports local jobs and technologies.

Indeed, officials are working on some kind of green energy act in the background and there's high-level interest in making it happen within the next few months. A free showing last Tuesday of David Suzuki's, The Suzuki Diaries, was used to promote the idea of a green energy act and several people of influence were there including Ontario Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman, Environment Minister John Gerretsen, and Colin Andersen the chief executive of the Ontario Power Authority.

"Ontario stands at a critical point now and we have to take advantage of the opportunity," said David Suzuki during the event.

However the transmission system, as it is, can't support a rapid transition to so many sources of energy. Nuclear power employs thousands of people in the province and is the economic engine for several communities, so it will be decades before those jobs are phased out.

The nuclear issue is a particular hot button for Suzuki, who as we know from his popular PowerWise TV commercials is a huge proponent of energy conservation. Suzuki, angered by Smitherman's seemingly unwavering commitment to build new nuclear plants in Ontario, recently quit the PowerWise campaign in protest.

Despite his frustration, Suzuki did recognize the government for its commitment to phasing out coal and being more progressive than other jurisdictions on the green-energy file.

Ontario gets about 20% of its electricity from hydroelectric generation alone, thanks to our great grandparents who had the foresight to invest in power dams, and the target is to reach about 45% by 2025 through the addition of wind turbine farms, solar parks, biogas generation from farms/landfills and new hydropower.

Germany may be an economic powerhouse when it comes to renewable energy and a poster child of the industry, but it only gets 15 per cent of its electricity from renewables – most of it added in the past two decades. Germany currently produces enough clean energy to run one third of Canada.

"It makes no sense to set renewable energy standards and then import all the equipment from overseas," said Andy King of the United Steelworkers Union, which has 80,000 members who are being hit hard by the American recession. The union sees a new era of manufacturing that supports development of green infrastructure and, ideally, a healthy export market.

It will cost money to get there, but it will cost us even more if we delay. Besides, all governments have embraced the need for economic stimulus. The trick now is to target the right areas.

Even the wind industry realizes putting green power on the grid isn't enough on its own. "In the long-term, continued political support of the wind industry will hinge on the ability to create jobs," said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association. There are approx. 8,000 components that go into a wind turbine and they should be built here in Canada, he says.

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