The Green Energy Act
by Cam Mather
I live in the jurisdiction determined to be the center of the North American green energy universe, and this is a good thing. As someone who’s lived off the grid with renewable energy for 12 years, it’s great to see us reaching the critical mass of people adopting the technology. We’ve often written about the challenges of being a pioneer and early adopter of something new like solar and wind power and how we convinced Bill Kemp to write “The Renewable Energy Handbook” to help others.
There have been a number of groups like the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (http://www.ontario-sea.org/) lobbying for many years to create an environment that encourages the mass implementation of a distributed generation system of power with many smaller generators using renewable energy rather than large-scale centralized power stations. The Ontario Government has finally created the Green Energy Act to develop this framework. The Act includes the “Feed In Tariff” (FIT), which pays a premium for green power. The government recently signed an agreement with Samsung from Korea to partner in this project. Samsung will install some large solar and wind farms and will be guaranteed room on the grid to pump those green electrons. They will also commit to build the plants to make the solar panels and wind turbines right here in Ontario and this to me really is the key to this deal. Right now most wind turbines come from Europe and solar panels come from anywhere but Canada.
Quebec played it smart when they began installing wind turbines. They told the companies that if you’re going to sell wind turbines to the Quebec government, you’re going to produce at least part of them in Quebec. Ontario has now instituted a minimum Ontario content for the installations, starting at 40% now and working up to 60% by 2011. Since you can’t make up that content without the PV or turbine being made in the province, there will soon be jobs making these products right here in Ontario. The Ontario economy has always been heavily invested in manufacturing and the economic depression has really decimated it. My father-in-law worked at Stelco, The Steel Company of Canada and retired with a pension. U. S. Steel recently bought Stelco and closed it down. Industries throughout the province are in the same boat.
The Ontario content requirements of the Green Energy Act are a logical response to the situation. If you want to see green power on the Ontario power grid and have Ontario ratepayers foot the bill, then you have to create some jobs for the privilege. Any government that spends taxpayers’ money and doesn’t have this requirement is irresponsible.
Our province has ridiculously low electricity rates. Ratepayers do not pay the true cost of electricity. It is subsidized through general revenues from taxpayers. We have not paid for our nuclear plants on which we owe $38 billion. We haven’t paid to permanently dispose of the waste these plants create (currently that waste is stored temporarily on site). It’s estimated this will cost $30 billion, but it seems hard to put a price on it since no country in the world has figured out how to do this. The nuclear plants don’t have to put money aside to be decommissioned – taxpayers will have to cover that when the time comes. The nuclear plants don’t have to pay for insurance in the event of catastrophic failure that would require billions be paid to compensate victims – taxpayers cover that. And they’ve never paid for the externalities such as the impact on human health and the health of our planet.
Electricity in this province is cheap because it’s heavily subsidized. Green energy is purchased at a premium over the regular rates, but the rate is the true cost of generating electricity. The fact that it’s green is a bonus. Jobs will be created. CO2 emissions will be reduced. The grid will become more resilient as there will be more inputs into the distributed network, like the internet. Citizens and companies can now participate in power generation rather than just having one huge bureaucratic entity in charge of producing electricity. The Green Energy Act puts Ontario at the top of the class in terms of the creation of sustainable power and I’ve never been prouder to live where I do.