By Robert Rattle, Sault Ste Marie This Week
We have the potential to create successful and promising sustainable renewable energy projects in Sault Ste. Marie.
The PUC and the West End Community Centre are good examples. Let’s build on those successes and leverage the benefits of community projects.
However, there’s nothing inherently sustainable about renewable energy. One challenge has been the growing discontent, disempowerment and dissatisfaction with industrial-scale renewable energy projects.
Might the recent announcement by the provincial government for a moratorium on industrial-scale wind farms in freshwater lakes be a step in the right direction? Perhaps, but a small one at best. Here’s why.
Societies in which social wealth and power is unequally distributed almost always have more violence, more disease, more mental health problems, higher infant mortality rates, reduced life expectancies, and less social cohesion and democratic participation. The impacts are most pronounced for the poorest, but are evident throughout society. In other words, being wealthier than thy neighbour does not insulate one from the consequences of unequal wealth distribution.
New hospitals are great to treat illness, but social equality reduces the incidence of illness in the first place.
In fact, since the Lalonde Report of 1974 right to the 2009 Senate Subcommittee on Population Health report and the World Health Organizations’ 2010 Report Closing the Gap in a Generation: Health Equity Through Action on the Social Determinants of Health, it has been well known that “health is largely determined by factors outside the health care system.”
Let’s face it: industry doesn’t move into neighbourhoods where the average income is over $100,000 annually. Nor do industries get wooed by towns that can say “No” to their pollution.
What does this have to do with renewable energy? Lots, and it all boils down to power.
In this case, though, it’s the power of those developing industrial scale renewables, the lack of control by local communities, and the very uneven distribution of wealth these projects generate. A social structure that permits such inequalities is reflected in our health care system and the trends that continue to push our planet to the brink.
Industrial renewables are not about generating electricity: they exist for investors –wherever in the world they reside –to profit. Industrial renewable energy projects are envisioned, planned, developed, operated and controlled by global investors to meet financial goals. When we sanction such activity, we contribute to the consolidation of power and wealth in the hands of the same few global actors by the same mechanisms that constructed entire industries that have become too big to fail. In so doing, we’ve globally socialized entire for-profit industries at the expense of our own health and well being. We’re simply replacing big oil with big renewables.
Industrial scale energy developments sever their host communities from the political processes and decision- making opportunities and typically create disempowerment. The provincial government has taken a token step to redress this shortcoming, but falls far short where any renewable energy projects are allowed to proceed with limited public participation.
Renewable energy is the way of the future, moving it forward quickly is essential, and stimulating renewable energy projects by offering incentives to renewable energy producers has certainly proven successful in Ontario. The sustainability of renewable energy projects, however, hinges on far more than merely the technology used to create their physical manifestations.
Why not expand incentives for people and communities? By creating incentives for community-owned, or co-operatives, or open access or municipal renewable energy projects, the government can still create jobs and wealth, and stimulate the renewable energy sector. Only it might be more equitably distributed rather than lumped to top-earning global financiers. It might also meet ecological prerequisites. It certainly would create far more local income opportunities and jobs for communities. It might even be sustainable. Aren’t those risks worth taking?
Our city; our say? That’s the essential ingredient any renewable energy project needs to succeed.
Large scale centralized energy developments –like global power and control ideologies –are the way of the past: the sunsetting fossil fueled era. Renewable energy can be distributed -both in terms of democracy and wealth. Community projects for local neighbourhoods establish how much is enough, connect resilient communities and build a solid foundation for our journey to sustainability.
Big oil or big renewable have only one objective in mind, and that has little to do with sustainability. That’s simply the way markets operate -they address efficient allocation –and do this well –yet say nothing about sustainable scale or equitable distribution. When markets begin with a very unequal wealth distribution, it doesn’t matter how efficiently that wealth is allocated –there will always be those unable to participate, not the least of which will be the environment.
Local projects by local communities for local benefits put the sustainability back into renewable energy. With all this foundational renewable energy around the Sault, should we not also strive to be sustainable too?