John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil Co., could have had Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in mind when he noted the following in his new book, Why We Hate the Oil Companies.
He said whatever the failings of oil executives — and there are many — the problem with politicians is they spend too much time promising energy will be green and sustainable, while ignoring it has to be affordable and available.
While Hofmeister supports developing “green” energy like wind and solar power, he also points out its practical problem. It’s such a small component of the energy grid, even if governments quadruple it, it will still provide a mere fraction of our energy needs for the foreseeable future.
To say nothing of requiring huge, 20-year public subsidies, meaning higher electricity prices, without which renewable energy isn’t viable.
Indeed, the Ontario government is already cutting back the subsidy it initially offered for small, ground-based solar panels because of the huge costs involved.
This brings us to McGuinty’s main energy policy which, so far, seems to be to indefinitely delay the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Darlington Station.
The problem is, in the absence of any clear alternative being proposed by his government, this isn’t a policy. It’s a non-policy.
Particularly if McGuinty is going to make good on his 2003 election promise to close Ontario’s coal-fired electricity stations, which was supposed to have been completed in 2007.
All that’s preventing Ontario from suffering a serious energy shortage today is the province is still struggling to emerge from a recession in which its manufacturing sector was gutted, one reason being high electricity prices.
We’re also looking down the barrel at another problem utilities across North America face — an aging electricity transmission system nearing the end of its lifespan. Without a viable system, you can’t get power to where you need it.
Ontario Energy Minister Brad Duguid says in tough economic times, the province has to strike a balance between upgrading transmission lines and pushing already rising electricity prices into the stratosphere.
But without a modern transmission system, you can’t make renewable energy work.
McGunity inherited many of these problems, including debts we’re still paying off from Ontario’s original nuclear fleet.
But if he’s really saying Ontario’s future isn’t nuclear power — the workhorse of our system which provides over 50% of our electricity — what is he saying? You can’t build new reactors overnight — it takes at least a decade.
While last week’s power failure affecting 240,000 homes during a heat wave, following a fire at an Etobicoke transformer station, wasn’t a supply issue, it provides a glimpse of our potential energy future if we don’t make the right decisions today.
So what is McGuinty’s energy plan and how is he, meaning how are we, going to pay for it?