Thursday, March 23, 2006

Powered by a New Provincial Energy Plan

Premier Dalton McGuinty reviewed why renewable energy is economically feasible for Ontario as he listened to David Suzuki speak at Photowatt Technologies in Cambridge on Tuesday about the plan they hope will boost renewable energy for the province. The host of The Nature of Things, advocate for forestry and sustainable environment and a childhood hero to many Canadians like McGuinty and myself said the plan is “a great cause for celebration” amongst environmentalists. Finally people can get some credit for being a steward of the earth, literally.

McGuity is offering subsidies as incentive to any resident willing to try their hand at renewable energy like biogas, wind, or solar power. Farmers and community groups will be able to sell their energy to the Ontario Power Authority and hopefully this will spark investment in alternative energy, which will hopefully become the dominant form of energy in Canada, like it is in parts of Europe like Germany, who is a leader in wind power. This plan should make Ontario a star supporter of renewable energy in North America, ahead of California.

Canada is in an embarrassing situation about our current management of air quality and energy production, as Barry Smit, a University of Guelph geology professor well knows. After coming back from a 10 day UN Climate Change conference in Montreal back in November. “People almost laughed (at Canadians). Canada was supposed to reduce (greenhouse gas) emissions by six per cent, but we’re up 24 per cent”[1] At the time we were blasting the US for not signing the accord even though they had done far more than we had to reach its goals. We were supposed to reduce the levels compared to what they were in the 90’s, but instead they’ve increased significantly. I remember jackhammering in humid plus 30C degree weather last summer during a smog warning, wearing an air mask and sweating like crazy. We didn’t stop working during smog warnings because if we did, we’d never work. After that came the warmest recorded winter in over six decades, which was 4C degree warmer on average, according to Environment Canada. So you could say we’re feeling the results of global warming.

Currently our coal-fired factories cause a lot of smog. Most farmers think what comes out of the back ends of their livestock is “waste” and the only propellers we’re used to seeing are the ones we get a glimpse of while stuck in a traffic jams near the Toronto lakeshore. It’s a start. We could be seeing a lot more solar panels, wind turbines and jobs. If we don’t get enough energy, the province will go ahead with costly and potentially devastating plans to build more nuclear power plants which would be disappointing. Instead, let’s take up this opportunity to create a better environment for our children. The goal is to have 10 per cent of our energy come from renewable energy by 2020. The standard offer program that he introduced will give 11 cents per kilowatt hour for wind, biogas or hydroelectric sources and 42 cents per kilowatt hour for solar energy.

Even though the new federal Conservative government hasn’t completely abandoned the Kyoto Protocal, which was the goal of reducing green-house gas emissions by 2012, Stephen Harper says it’s too late to achieve that goal. I don’t blame him. He’s not a magician. On March 14, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose suggested we should create a plan that also includes water and soil quality as well as air quality and she is drafting the Clean Air Act. Although there was some mention of working with Asian countries on some partnership to develop renewable energy technology, the Clean Air Act doesn’t even target green house gases. We obviously need reforms in all areas of pollution but we shouldn’t let different systems of measurement and complex legislation distract us from the focus of our problems and we need action today, not more plans for some indeterminate future. The federal government should coordinate the country so that there are financial rewards to other provinces for clean energy. So far it appears the provincial government has had to step in to propose innovative solutions to environmental problems that federal government is reluctant to specifically address.

I’m glad to see that McGuinty has decided to take the advice of a respected environmentalist like Suzuki who has shown his commitment to the longevity of our national wildlife through the work of his foundation, rather than an economist whose scheme only forecasts infinite growth, without a realistic calculation of global resources.

Photowatt sees itself getting busy in the next ten years as it expands its services to install more solar panels on buildings and homes. While it may be initially costly, you could pay back the installation costs of solar panels within a year, and then you are making profit for years to come. Previously it often seemed too expensive get solar panels installed, but now with this program, people should be walking on sunshine.

[1] Konieczna, Magda “UN Sessions Stymied by Lack of Leadership” Guelph Mercury, Dec 7, 2005; pg. A3

Filed under Environment


Blogger madamerouge said...

I laughed at the CFTO footage of the Scarborough man's solar array. It was partially obscured by a tree. One would hope some branches would be trimmed. Nothing like sinking $75G into a solar system that's not fully facing the sun...

10:22 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10 years? If they last into 2007.

5:02 p.m.  
Blogger sirbarrett said...

madamerouge -Yeah, that's kind of like spending money on solar-powered flashlights.

anonymous -Oh yeah? Maybe you know something I don't know. What's with the doubting? They've been around for 25 years. I don't see any reason why they wouldn't last one more.

5:22 p.m.  

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