There’s nothing inherently sustainable about renewable energy

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?

7 thoughts on “There’s nothing inherently sustainable about renewable energy

  1. Well said, Mr Rattle?????? Was that sarcasm???????
    I certainly hope so.
    I was at an environmental group meeting in my community
    last fall. The guest speaker was a teacher from our
    local school. She talked about ‘peak oil’ and transitional
    living. Scary stuff, if you’re a kid, but maybe we can
    save the world. (sarcasm intended) She went on to say
    she was trying to get or had gotten funding for the
    children to do a project study on transitional living.
    (It was hard to take it all in as I was in shock.)
    This is what is going on at our schools, brainwashing.
    And the article above is just another case of such.
    People have to give their heads a shake and do their
    homework. A scam is a scam, no matter who is
    benefiting from it. We will all pay for this craziness.
    If the comment was not sarcasm, another thumbs
    down would have done.

  2. Bang on Linda. The article seemed to be promising with the part slamming big wind industry. What makes the article weird is it goes on to say its ok for a community to do exactly what the big company would do. Why? Is a local scam better? A scam is a scam and even the locals pay for that.

  3. There is no benefit to wind. It has to be backed 100% by nuclear, gas or coal so what is the point? Why can’t people get this into their heads? They save nothing in the way of C02’s.

    Turbines are just very expensive useless toys for the rich!!! And Ontario is not rich.

  4. Robert Rattle, I think that you need to do some more research, your close but no cigar!

    There are many aspects of wind power and a the proper perspective of each aspect has to be attained before it can be totally understood. As an example people refer to wind turbines as windmills both are man made but they are not one and same. Windmills served man’s purpose once a upon a time, wind turbines on the other hand only purpose will be man’s demise.

    No wind turbines, no wind farms period, then there’s no concerns.

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