By Randall Denley, The Ottawa Citizen
Are any of our three major Ontario political parties capable of producing a power plan that will keep the lights on for an affordable price?
Based on what we saw this week, you can scratch the Liberals off the list. Their 20-year power plan reads more like an election platform plank than a sober, long-term look at our power needs. They are prepared to spend billions on green energy that will produce almost no power and are fixated with making a political point about coal.
The government document just can’t tell you enough times how much the former Progressive Conservative government loved dirty coal, while the Liberals love clean power.
PCs dirty, Liberals clean. Got the message?
Politics aside, the Liberal plan says nuclear reactors will still be producing 46 per cent of our power in 2030. It optimistically estimates that providing that stated supply through new reactors and refurbishing existing ones will cost $33 billion, the single biggest piece of their $87-billion plan.
This is obviously the critical part of the plan, but the government isn’t even close to action.
Uncertainty over the future of Atomic Energy Canada Limited and a high AECL bid for a new reactor have put everything on hold.
It’s difficult to take a plan seriously when the centrepiece is so uncertain. That’s not the worst of it, though. Way back in 2007, the predecessor of this plan proposed spending $7 billion on renewable power, primarily wind. The new plan boosts that to $27 billion.
What do we get for all that money? Not much. The government wants to spend $9 billion on solar power, while acknowledging that this source will provide only 1.5 per cent of our total power in 2030. A spokesman for Energy Minister Brad Duguid says that the spending is meant to be an investment to help develop a solar industry in Ontario.
Which takes us to the next problem.
This isn’t a plan to deliver the lowest-cost power while still respecting the environment. It’s a job-creation plan charged to you on your hydro bill. That’s why Ontario isn’t interested in buying any additional hydroelectric power from Quebec, even though that province has a surplus, the power is green and the price is cheap. Despite all that, Quebec power won’t create jobs in Ontario, so it’s not of interest, the ministerial spokesman says.
The Liberals’ green-power/job-creation plan will definitely guarantee higher power bills, but the job-creation part is much more in question. This week, the province’s competitiveness and productivity task force questioned the McGuinty government’s claim that its green-energy plan would create 50,000 new jobs.
The task force, which has had a big influence on government policy in the past, pointed out that rising electricity prices will cost jobs in other sectors. It also reminded us that long-term, high-priced contracts for one particular technology don’t drive innovation and they might not even be effective at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. All of this was ignored in the latest McGuinty government report.
Being a combination of wishful thinking, green ideology and political spin, the McGuinty plan is certainly easy to criticize. The frustrated premier lashed out at the opposition leaders this week for dumping on him without offering plans of their own.
One can’t feel too sorry for McGuinty. He wanted to be premier. It’s up to his government, and not the opposition, to address this issue. That said, both the NDP and the PCs will need credible alternatives before the next election. Fortunately, McGuinty has left lots of leeway.
People will rightly look to PC leader Tim Hudak for guidance, since his party is leading in the polls. So far, there isn’t much to see. Hudak’s comment that he is consulting “moms and dads and small-business owners” is just inane.
Both the Liberals and the PCs show enthusiasm for engaging in a depressing debate over who is responsible for Ontario’s power system not being in better shape than it is today. Does it matter? This is an issue about the future and the only relevant question should be: what is the best way to generate electricity at the lowest cost and with the lowest environmental impact?
Hudak should be telling us that he will kill plans to spend $9 billion on solar and $14 billion on wind, get moving on nuclear and buy as much cheap, green power as Quebec will sell us. These are the fundamentals of any sensible approach to power in this province and he shouldn’t need “moms and dads” to tell him that.