Ontarians pay price for Liberals’ backfiring green energy plans

by ADAM RADWANSKI, Globe and Mail

At a certain point, the excuses start to wear a little thin.

Yes, Ontario entered largely uncharted territory with the most ambitious alternative-energy strategy in North America. Sure, it was inevitable that a few mistakes would need to be corrected along the way. The price of moving urgently, and all that.

But the Green Energy Act is one of the centrepieces of Dalton McGuinty’s second term. It’s supposed to be pivotal to the province’s economic and environmental future. And it asks Ontarians to shoulder higher energy bills over the next few years to subsidize the costs.

That being the case, Mr. McGuinty’s Liberals needed to do their homework before moving forward. But as demonstrated this month by a pair of controversies, and as many Liberals privately concede, they were in too much of a hurry for that.

Of the two recent stories, a new moratorium on offshore wind turbines has received more coverage. The back-story is that the Liberals barely considered whether they even wanted offshore developments – as opposed to the ones on land – before allowing for them in their legislation. They were then caught off guard by the amount of interest from developers, and the vehemence of opposition in lakeside communities. Last year, they announced a five-kilometre setback requirement that they hoped would make the issue go away. Now, having decided that wasn’t sufficient, they’ve ruled out offshore entirely – leaving in the lurch at least a couple of developers who were moving forward in good faith.

The story that’s gotten less attention, though, is the more significant of the two.

Unlike offshore wind, solar power was always supposed to be a significant part of the green-energy plan. To that end, roughly 20,000 farmers were awarded contracts to place solar panels on their property. But last week, about 1,000 of them – many of whom had already made related investments – were informed that the province currently lacks the transmission capacity to move forward with their projects.

That stands to create considerable bad will in corners of rural Ontario, especially because it’s not the first time farmers have been given unpleasant news on this front. Last summer, they were told that rather than receiving 80.2 cents per kilowatt hour of solar power that they generated, they’d be getting only 58.8 cents. (After a backlash, the government eventually settled on a compromise rate of 64.2 cents.)

Somehow, the government didn’t anticipate that the wildly inflated rate it’s paying for solar – still about four times what it’s paying for wind, which is itself at a premium – would find a great number of takers. The Liberals are now trying to spin that demand as a positive. But the transition and payment problems belie that argument.

While only a relatively small number of farmers have been badly put out, all Ontarians are paying some price. The province’s long-term energy plan calls for $9-billion to be invested in solar, the bulk of it in the next few years – all so that solar can eventually comprise 1.5 per cent of the power supply mix. (By comparison, wind power is supposed to make up 10 per cent of supply, at a cost of $14-billion.)

In the long-run, Mr. McGuinty hopes, the various foibles will become footnotes in Ontario’s march to the front of the green-energy pack. And contrary to some of the triumphal commentary by his critics, neither the offshore about-face nor the solar confusion signal much retreat from that broad goal.

To be sure, governments have committed worse sins than moving too quickly on things they genuinely believe in. But the danger, for those who share their faith, is that the Liberals will ultimately set back the cause.

Ontario is something of a test case for this kind of green energy development. If it helps defeat Mr. McGuinty’s Liberals in this year’s election, and is subsequently de-prioritized by Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives, governments elsewhere could be wary of moving aggressively on it.

A more optimistic scenario, from an environmentalist’s perspective, is that – whatever the fate of Mr. McGuinty’s government – other governments are learning only that they need to proceed a little more cautiously. If so, residents of those jurisdictions might get the green energy without all the excuses.

4 thoughts on “Ontarians pay price for Liberals’ backfiring green energy plans

  1. Mr.Radwanski has never done his homework on just what IWTs really are and for that matter on solar as well. He lacks the scientific,economic,environmental and health knowledge to make intelligent decisions on these matters. He seem to think that it’s only a matter of informing the public of the so called benefits of wind and solar energy. Then the public will learn to accept them.

    But he is correct about the issue of other governments watching the outcome of the “green” energy debacle here in Ontario. If the” green” energy scam is stopped in Ontario it can be stopped elsewhere.

    He does not understand that Ontarians are not going to purchase and pay for very expensive obsolete “horse & buggy” wind machines that can’t do the job they were purchased for and they do nothing to control CO2 levels because they require backup fosil fuel generation.Then there are a host of other problems associated with wind and solar as well.

    Nice try Mr.Radwanski! Write about these issues again when you have done your homework on wind and solar power production.

  2. The government knew transmission capacity was limited prior to promises of hooking up. The Liberal’s didn’t care that “farmers” spent their retirement funds getting into solar and are now unable to hook up. The government appears to be using this situation in attempts to generate public sympathy for the poor farmer that now needs more transmission capacity to hook up. People including, real farmers, should not have to tolerate more transmission corridors. Billions should not be spent on transmission capacity for such weak sources of power. Bit of waste besides solar power has nothing to do with farming or farmers.

  3. Zen said:

    “The government knew transmission capacity was limited prior to promises of hooking up. ”

    Are you sure you want to stick with that? You’re implying that the minister understood the reports he was getting. I know I would not make that claim. 😉

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