Green Energy Act off the mark in two cases

Strathroy Age Dispatch

But isn’t this a classic case of the means justifying the end? Limiting public input is a dangerous path to follow for any democratic government. There’s currently a lively debate going on, for instance, over the possible public health effects of wind turbines. Those pushing wind power think these concerns are frivolous, and can produce studies that back them up. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for a government committed to wind power to call these concerns frivolous and throw them out, even though we have seen all sorts of other studies suggesting that at the least, the jury is still out on the health issue.

In short, we don’t care for the idea that a government that is an active player in the alternative energy issue can also make the rules that govern the debate.

Using the tried and true old political sleight of hand trick, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty tried last week to divert public attention from the depressing economic situation in the province by playing the ever-popular environmental card, introducing a new Green Energy Act.

The details of the legislation have been well aired in the media over the past several days, but it’s worth focusing on a couple of them one more time.

One is a little proposal that’s really on the periphery of the overall green power issue. That’s the requirement for home owners to provide an energy audit for prospective buyers when they are selling their homes. The cost will be $300, with half subsidized through a government grant.

The lack of faith on the part of the Liberals in the common sense of the public is awesome. Seems to us that if we want to know how efficient a home’s energy use is, we simply ask the owner to see recent power bills. On that basis, we can make our decision. And if the seller won’t produce the bills, we will certainly think twice about buying. Who needs a formal audit?

All this does is create more cost for people conducting economic activity and more cost for the government, both of which are incredibly counterproductive in the economic recession we are now experiencing. These days, doing anything that discourages economic activity (even if it’s just a few hundred dollars for an audit) is the most irresponsible thing any government can do.

We also worry about Mr. McGuinty’s move to limit public input on projects like wind energy farms by vowing not to tolerate objections based on the NIMBY (not in my backyard) argument, and allow only “legitimate” environmental and safety concerns. The definition of “legitimate” will, of course, fall to the government, the same government actively pushing alternate forms of energy like wind power as a way to create 50,000 new green jobs.

But isn’t this a classic case of the means justifying the end? Limiting public input is a dangerous path to follow for any democratic government. There’s currently a lively debate going on, for instance, over the possible public health effects of wind turbines. Those pushing wind power think these concerns are frivolous, and can produce studies that back them up. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for a government committed to wind power to call these concerns frivolous and throw them out, even though we have seen all sorts of other studies suggesting that at the least, the jury is still out on the health issue.

Similarly, there’s the issue of expanding hydro power in northern Ontario. Hydro power already makes up 24 percent of the province’s power, and is the ultimate clean, renewable energy source that can make a real difference. The problem is that the inevitable byproduct of new hydroelectric plants is the flooding of great hunks of land to create the dams that make hydro generation possible. How will the government handle objections by landowners and others affected by this? Will they be deemed frivolous or be condemned by the dreaded NIMBY tag? Who knows? It will be up to the government, and that’s the problem.

In short, we don’t care for the idea that a government that is an active player in the alternative energy issue can also make the rules that govern the debate.

3 March 2009