Ontario’s green pit bulls

McGuinty and Smitherman will tell us what we can and can’t think about renewable energy

By LORRIE GOLDSTEIN, Toronto Sun

Few things are as alarming as politicians who don’t understand an issue suddenly deciding they do and then dictating to the rest of us how we will be permitted to respond.

Say hello to Premier Dalton McGuinty and his faithful pit bull, Energy Minister George Smitherman, as they bully and blunder their way across Ontario on the issue of renewable energy.

Poised to introduce a new Green Energy Act tomorrow, they’ve already announced through the media (now detained a safe five feet away from the premier during press scrums), that anyone they deem “NIMBYS” (suffering from “Not In My Back Yard Syndrome”), won’t be allowed to stand in the way of progress.

Progress being building renewable energy projects they say will fight climate change.

Ironically, McGuinty has broken his 2003 election promise to close Ontario’s coal-fired energy plants by 2007 so many times — the one thing he could have done to lower Ontario’s greenhouse gas and pollution emissions — that we’ve stopped counting.

Either he didn’t understand when he made this pledge it would be impossible to achieve in a four-year time frame, or he did and didn’t care.

Neither possibility is comforting given that our premier now claims expertise on which citizen objections in the relatively new field of renewable energy are valid and which aren’t.

According to McGuinty, the only objections from the great unwashed (us) he will entertain are those he deems genuine “safety” or “environmental” concerns.

Odd how our great defender of Gaia could have come up with these two criteria while forgetting the most important one — whether the projects will actually reduce emissions.

McGuinty and Smitherman have targeted for ridicule residents overlooking the Scarborough Bluffs objecting to a proposed wind farm by Toronto Hydro of up to 60 turbines a few kilometres offshore in Lake Ontario.

To be sure, aesthetics alone are not a valid basis for opposing renewable energy.

That said, if a wind farm, on water or land, lowers the property value of your house because of concerns about noise, the potential or perceived human health risks, or even the danger the turbines pose to birds and mosquito-eating bats (it’s not just the oil sands that are deadly to wildlife), it’s no longer about aesthetics. It’s about the value of the biggest asset most Ontarians have, their homes.

Further, for McGuinty and Smitherman to suggest that deciding on the suitability of the Lake Ontario proposal, or any other, is a simple matter of installing wind-testing equipment and making an easy decision, is absurd. These are complex determinations in a relatively new field, so let’s hope someone has introduced our Abbott and Costello of the environment to the concept of “net energy.”

That is, the difference between the energy a renewable project generates and the non-renewable (usually fossil fuel) energy it takes to build it. Unless you get that right, you end up with wind turbines that never replace the fossil fuel energy it took to manufacture them, before they fall apart.

(Leading Canadian geoscientist J. David Hughes explains this in one of the essays in Carbon Shift, edited by Thomas Homer-Dixon, coming out in April.)

Let’s also hope McGuinty and Smitherman have read up on Germany, a world leader in wind farms.

As Spiegel Online recently reported in an article titled “Wind Turbines in Europe Do Nothing for Emissions-Reduction Goals,” while Germany produces 15% of its electricity from renewable energy “the new wind turbines and solar cells haven’t prohibited the emission of a single gram of CO2 (carbon dioxide).”

This is in part because under the European Union’s disastrous Emissions Trading Scheme, built on carbon credits: “Germany was able to sell unused (carbon) certificates across Europe — to coal companies in countries like Poland or Slovakia … Thanks to Germany’s wind turbines, these countries were then able to emit more greenhouse gases than originally planned.”

GET THE ‘CAP’ RIGHT

In order to make renewable energy projects effective, you have to get the “cap” part of a “cap-and-trade” carbon market right, which Europe failed to do from day one.

But why worry? Since McGuinty favours creating a North American cap-and-trade market, along with almost every other politician, what could possibly go wrong?

Never mind those reports about wind turbines breaking down faster than advertised, blowing apart (ironic, no?) and the 18-month wait for parts while the turbines sit idle.

Nor the fact renewable projects have to be backed up by traditional energy and won’t become economically viable without huge public subsidies until oil goes back up to $150 a barrel and stays there.

No doubt McGuinty and Smitherman, promising 50,000 “green” jobs, have thought this through.

After all, they’re the experts.

LORRIE.GOLDSTEIN@SUNMEDIA.CA

http://www.torontosun.com/comment/columnists/lorrie_goldstein/2009/02/22/8481461-sun.html