When it comes to electricity, premier uses the power of spin by Lorrie Goldstein, Toronto Sun
It would be so much easier if Premier Dalton McGuinty and his government would just be honest and forthright about electricity pricing and renewable energy. Knowing what they’re talking about would also help.
This struck me while reading a pamphlet the Liberal government recently sent to homeowners. It informs us on its front cover — accompanied by pictures of wind turbines and a hydro dam — that “Electricity prices are changing” and invites us to “Find out why” inside.
Note the use of the weasel word “changing” to describe electricity prices, as opposed to the honest one — “rising.”
The fact prices are “going up” does make it into small print at the top of the first inside page.
But it’s immediately qualified by arguments prices are rising worldwide, and in Ontario the reasons are the need to upgrade hydro infrastructure and close coal-fired electricity plants.
More weasel words, not because of what is said, but because of what’s omitted.
For example, there’s no mention of McGuinty’s imposition of the HST July 1, which added 8% to electricity bills — not to mention bills for gasoline, heat and hundreds of other goods and services.
However, the pamphlet cites the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit — borrowed money we’ll have to pay back — taking 10% off only electricity bills and only for five years, in the section: “How can I manage costs?”
In fact, this “benefit” was created by McGuinty to try to reduce public anger over the HST, before he has to face voters, Oct. 6.
So, in McGuinty’s Ontario, only government actions lowering electricity prices temporarily are worth mentioning, not actions raising prices permanently — even when the latter prompts the former.
Next I read something which makes me wonder if the Liberals have any idea of what they’re doing on renewable energy.
In answer to the question “Why not coal?” — meaning why has the government decided to close less expensive, coal-fired electricity plants, the pamphlet warns: “Coal plants release greenhouse gases that pollute the air we breathe.”
Here, the weasel words lie in the fact this explanation is so simplistic, it’s misleading.
While greenhouse gases and gases which cause pollution both come out of the same smokestack when burning coal, they are separate issues.
As is not yet the case for greenhouse gases, we have practical technology — scrubbers — to reduce smokestack emissions which cause pollution and smog.
But McGuinty has refused since being elected in 2003 to install scrubbers on coal-fired plants.
The original explanation was that since he had promised in the 2003 campaign to close all coal-fired plants by 2007, it didn’t make economic sense to do so.
Problem is, McGuinty not only missed that deadline, but now says he won’t finish the job until 2014.
Despite this, his government’s pamphlet, after confusing greenhouse gases with air pollution, warns that: “According to a 2005 study prepared for the government, the health-related damages of coal could top $3 billion a year.”
If so, why did McGuinty decide to let this go on until (at least) 2014, instead of acting immediately?
What actually happened was McGuinty in 2003 made an unrealistic pledge to shut down all coal-fired plants by 2007, replacing them with renewable energy — mainly wind.
In fairness, Ontario has reduced its coal-fired emissions since 2007, but largely because the 2008 global recession, which hit Ontario’s already struggling manufacturing sector, reduced electricity demand.
The problem with wind power is that at present it isn’t viable without massive subsidies from electricity consumers, another reason for rising prices.
Plus, wind power can’t produce energy on demand.
Those wind turbines on the front of the government’s pamphlet will have to be backed up by other forms of energy — typically natural gas.
Natural gas, while cleaner than coal, is also a fossil fuel and emits greenhouse gases and pollution.
Oddly, that isn’t in the pamphlet, either.