By Peter Gorrie Toronto Star
Remember the Ontario government’s plan to require energy audits for homes that are up for sale?
It is, I’m told, kaput — another sign that all is not well with the much-vaunted Green Energy Act, the legislation the government called “our path to a green economy and a cleaner environment.”
The audit program was part of the act, which received Royal Assent in May 2009.
Like most legislation these days, it didn’t establish fully realized programs. Instead, it stated intentions and authorized the government to implement them through detailed regulations.
The mandatory audits were dwarfed in importance by other measures, including the feed-in tariffs intended to boost development of wind, solar and other renewable electricity. Still, they’d help to create demand in the resale housing market for features that reduce consumption of heating fuel and electricity.
But the real estate industry objected – it wants only voluntary audits — and the program has, apparently, been killed.
“I find it extremely disappointing and surprising,” says one industry insider who supports mandatory audits. Most buyers don’t understand the value of many efficiency features, “and the market isn’t able to explain it to them.”
Energy and Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid, the insider continues, “is failing to show the same strength of leadership and understanding . . . that were expressed by (his predecessor) George Smitherman. Mandatory audits “would have allowed Ontario to be a leading jurisdiction that others look to for best practices. Instead, we’re putting ourselves back into the laggard position.”
There is, of course, no guarantee that Smitherman — who quit Queen’s Park for Toronto’s mayoralty campaign — would have stayed the course. The Liberal government consistently loses its spine between legislation and regulation, and the demise of the home audits isn’t the only example from the Green Energy Act.
Bowing to pressure from various interests, the government chopped the feed-in-tariff price it will pay for small, ground-mounted solar electricity projects. It also banned installation of offshore wind turbines closer than five kilometres to land.
Both changes were arbitrary. There’s no evidence, for example, that keeping wind turbines five kilometres from shore is either necessary or adequate to prevent the threats to human health or migratory birds that their critics decry.
Five seems to be just a number pulled from a hat to solve a modest political problem.
Collectively, these moves undercut the notion Ontario is a reliable place to do business, at a time when it’s fighting tough global competition to attract renewable energy investments.
The province barely registers in a new United Nations report on the industry’s rapid growth. Several U.S. states are determined to dominate the North American market. Ontario’s main advantage against them is the feed-in tariff, with its promise of a steady price for renewable electricity for 20 years.
“The key word is stability,” says Jacob Travis, of the Ontario Solar Academy, a group aiming to professionalize the small-scale solar industry.” The arbitrary government changes are “spooking people who were considering investing.” The moves “raise concerns about what’s down the road.”
“The government had been leasing land for people to explore offshore . . . within five kilometres,” says Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association.
The new limit “creates a tremendous amount of anxiety about whether there’s a possibility of rule changes in the future.
“It will be very important that whatever the rules are going forward, that people have a high degree of confidence these will be the rules . . . and that they won’t be subject to change again.”
The government insists that’s the case. But its performance suggests anyone intending to get involved with Green Energy Act programs should be wary.