Why we must reset Ontario’s energy policy agenda

by Jatin Nathwani, Globe and Mail
Has Ontario’s green energy revolution met its Waterloo? Or can a cautious reprieve be crafted to avoid banishment?  Given the new electoral landscape and a minority government struggling with debts and deficits, a sober assessment of the cost impact of solar and distant but dispersed wind resources will be necessary. For any incoming minister, the fate of Ontario’s Green Energy Act will hang in the balance unless there’s a credible path forward that meets the harsh test of fiscal prudence and a flexible set of solutions that can command broader social acceptance.

Fierce opposition to the expansion of industrial-scale wind turbines on farmers’ fields likely played a central role in shaping the outcome of the election. The rural-urban divide that has emerged in Ontario politics may be an early warning signal that aspirations for a cleaner energy future may well unravel if cost implications are ignored for much longer.

Grievances raised over health effects of low-frequency noise and visual effects of wind generation represent but one spectrum of opposition. If a wider protest develops around the cost and price impact arising from the existing high feed-in tariffs for solar and wind generation, then the arguments for future job creation may not be compelling enough to turn the tide.

Rather than abandon the path toward a cleaner energy system, injecting a large dose of practical sense in long-term plans for the province may help. The plans should be anchored around a clear understanding and optimization of long-term costs – including social and environmental costs of all energy options – in a way that doesn’t shift a large part of the burden onto hapless consumers. The current feed-in tariffs will require major surgery and a lowering of the “virtue premium” if they’re to survive a consumer backlash.

Energy policy decisions based on a few key principles may help. Affordability and access to a reliable supply of energy is a bedrock principle. Any major deviation would be a perilous journey into an uncertain future with unintended consequences. In the U.K. recently, we have seen the emergence of a serious debate and pushback over energy price increases that threaten to move middle-income families into an unwelcome category defined as the “energy poor.” Green policy prescriptions are an integral part of the problem. In tough economic times, expect affordability concerns to rise to the top of the political agenda.

To avoid slipping into a dystopian energy future, we need to find a way to develop Ontario’s energy system that fosters innovation in new cleaner technologies without losing sight of affordability and cost impact. Since the days of Sir Adam Beck, the twin goals of economic development and job creation have become part of Ontario’s success. “Power at cost” was the motto, and served Ontario well. The lesson we seem to have forgotten is that cost matters and long-term sustainability of green energy options won’t be achieved without a renewed emphasis on innovation. Finessing policy instruments that simply transfer wealth from one group to another is a recipe for tears.

Why not reset Ontario’s energy policy agenda? Ensuring access to a reliable supply of power for consumers, from either local sources or assured imports, to minimize price spikes is one way of moving electricity off the front pages. A strong emphasis on long-term planning will deliver a robust demand/supply balance and avoid price spikes. Continuous investment in a diversified generation mix, including significant proportions of clean and renewable generation, that isn’t overly dependent on a single technology or fuel is the other part.

And a final touch: Provide regulatory and policy certainty that comes at no cost but is the critical ingredient required for investor confidence. The path to Ontario’s establishing technological leadership requires a broader social consensus with feet on the ground.

Jatin Nathwani is a professor and Ontario Research Chair in Public Policy for Sustainable Energy Management at the University of Waterloo.

33 thoughts on “Why we must reset Ontario’s energy policy agenda

    • He is saying is the GEA is a bunch of fertilizer….

      • Aww shucks ya mean there is no need now to drive my manure spreader load into the big city this spring illustrating the point “big wind” doesn’t always refer to flatulence?

    • Something is said with great gravitas.
      Perhaps it lost something in the translation from the original Latin.

    • Nipcat, Here’s my “translation,” paragraph by paragraph:

      Looks like we’re in deep doo-doo here in Ontario. People seem to be figuring out that the so-called green energy revolution as implemented so far is a crock.

      We haven’t been honest with Ontarian’s about costs and other aspects of the Green Energy Act and its implementation. This needs to change.

      Concerns about health effects are hitting home. If concerns about cost and reliability gain the same kind of traction, then even stepping up the already relentless BS about green jobs that the government has been shoveling out the door isn’t going to be enough.

      It may help to inject a large dose of common sense into the government’s plans for a green energy Nirvana. Let’s stop just assuming that Ontarians will remain silent as they gain more understanding about how they are being led down the garden path. For example, we have to adjust the FIT so that we don’t continue to pay premium prices for energy produced when it is worthless.

      We need to get back to some basic principles like cost and reliability that we haven’t been paying attention to lately, especially if we’re headed for tough economic times.

      Unless we change course, we are headed towards the worst of all possible outcomes, an unreliable electricity system with spiraling costs. A cost-effective and reliable “green” energy future isn’t possible without new ideas. We can’t continue to cover up the problems by papering them over and fiddling the books.

      Why not re-think the Green Energy Act but with a long-term view that takes reliability and cost into account? We should continue to consider the so-called green sources, but let’s not be dogmatic about it.

      Energy policy has broad implications, so we need to get it right this time.

  1. We need to go back to “power at cost”. The old system did not need fixing contrary to the bigshots at Queens Park. Harris changed that to include profit for his friends, and then McGuinty really exploited that for his friends. Their friends making money from our hard work needs to stop. cost of solar is now 1/4 of what it used to be. Solar hot water is more worthwhile. Solar PV is better than wind. We need to stop paying for back up generators for the wind that is useless in the summer. Wind turbines can be built quieter. Longer setbacks needed. Put wind turbines up at James Bay and make hydrogen to inject into natural gas pipelines. And one other thing, get over the fear of nuclear and all that ranting. Wind contracts expire just as the next generation of college graduates enter the workforce, and that will be a mess in the future to deal with thousands of worn out wind turbine machines.

    • Eric:

      If you are going to state that Solar is “better” say how. More efficient? more productive, less drop-out? What?

      Your statements are like saying that we are going to “improve” a road when our objective is to “move more traffic volume at higher speeds”.

      Some of us might say the reducing volume and speed would be an improvement.

      My estimates indicate that Solar is far worse (less productive) than wind and at a higher cost in most respects — $$ and land.

      Plus… Solar is only available for a few hours a day — and storage of solar may not be practical in the near term — if ever — due to the quantity of the mineral lead required (plus vanadium and others) — see previous post addressing this point.

      So please explain why it is “better”.

  2. I have to be honest , if I had the guy that designed this ECO babble of Green this , sustainable that ,peak whatever , they would be out my door in a heartbeat…without opening it first.
    The real issues facing us in the next 50 years.
    Consumerism and market speculation
    Use of Crops for anything but FOOD.
    This entire alternate energy direction is ONLY about privatization.

  3. Sheesh – he must be paid by the word. “Power at cost” is a good start (that’s three words).

    Here’s an idea, how about we hear from someone who actually has some expertise in operating a modern, cost-effective energy system instead of all of these politicians and academics ?

  4. “Continuous investment in a diversified generation mix, including significant proportions of clean and renewable generation, that isn’t overly dependent on a single technology or fuel is the other part”

    This says is all, the goal post has shifted to one of renewables providing supplemental supplies of power and only taking a PART of a “reliable” future energy mix. This kind of double talk, assuages those that still believe that renewables can help our energy problems when in the end it can’t. The key word is reliable, wind and solar are both intermittent, unreliable, inefficient, non-dispatchable… all characteristics needed by a modern electrical grid and a robust economy that can provide a decent standard of living.

    • I see solar as a viable power source small scale.
      With enormous potential with least amount of impact not like IWTs
      I didn’t say it wasn’t perfect , but you get enough of these on peoples homes and barns we have a good ball game going.
      Good for me , I don’t have to buy as much power , good for business and jobs because now I have money to spend.
      You have a rooftop , it’s not as if you need thousands of acres like IWTs with all the issues.
      It will not get us off conventional power, but it will lower demand and all those ECO tiresome words used today.
      I want to see grants and heavy subsidies to ME….not to energy companies.


  6. Barbara

    NO DEAL to Wind Turbines in Ontario!

    Colossal waste of our hard earned money and a huge social injustice to Rural Ontario.

    Stock up on the candles and blankets, our children and grandchildren will need them in the future.

    • Agreed! But you can’t blame them for trying. At least they now acknowledge there are serious problems with their renewable energy policies.

  7. “Finessing policy instruments that simply transfer wealth from one group to another is a recipe for tears”.

  8. RESET — FAIL?

    Just a couple of notes:

    Community Safety Minister Jim Bradley will succeed the highly regarded Environment Minister John Wilkinson, who was defeated two weeks ago. Bradley had served as environment minister from 1985 to 1990 under former Liberal premier David Peterson.

    Of Duguid…

    Attorney General Chris Bentley will replace Energy Minister Brad Duguid, who oversaw wind-power policies that cost the Grits most of their rural seats but may have helped in urban areas where green-energy is fashionable.

    Duguid will be promoted to an enlarged Economic Development and Innovation portfolio. He replaces retired MPP Sandra Pupatello in that role and takes over innovation from Toronto Centre MPP Glen Murray, who will be elevated to training, colleges and universities.

    From Here:

    Duguid was promoted? Wilkinson was highly regarded?

    Authors: Rob Ferguson and Robert Benzie Queen’s Park Bureau– are from an alternate Universe?

    Decision: Laugh, cry, weep for what was? Oh the agony!

    • MaRs is an idea to build an entire Industry , of Thinkers and Innovators.
      So , these people are going to drown in public funding to create new ideas.
      Assuming there aren’t any smart people in other countries , we will have a Innovation industry.
      We aren’t going to make things..because our costs make it us uncompetitive.
      It will likely centre around Environmental .
      So we will pour public money into this ” Industry” which will then think of ways to have things cost you more money….to save the planet of course.
      Until I see Overpopulation , Deforestation , Consumerism and Crops for Fuels on the agenda
      we will again be wasting money.on the ” WindMill” Industry.
      This is job creation for Enviro Lobby groups to groom the masses and spin the spin , and the Financial Markets , Environmental Lawyers and tha Environmental Industry .
      Unless you belong in this category….forget your pensions and jobs. And take a number in the foodbank line.
      Anyone here interested in forming a Nonprofit group to Sell the benefits of these wonderful , green , clean , renewable , energy concepts for our energy sustainability let me know.
      Salary will start at competitive rates $ 250-$400,000 a year plus electric car and paid vacations.
      And a body guard .
      We will apply to Ontario for a Tens of millions , set up an office and have some material printed and begin grooming public school kids on how wonderful “Windmills” are.
      And have contests for Renewable energy projects in their homes..using scholarships as the prize.
      I think our focus should be in the subsidized housing areas of TO.
      Say no to Guns and Gangs..Embrace new economic prosperity…sell the green idea.
      You don’t even have to work hard.
      Just promote “Windmills Good” .
      Uniforms supplied

      • Well , you have to dress the part , Brioni suit and Hermes ties
        Dress for success my friend…afterall it is your money so no expense spared.

  9. A wise man once said, “There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing”.

  10. I hope to God they are learning, but we’ll have to see how much and how fast.

    I tried hard to be not too sarcastic in my “translation” because Nathwani is in a very influential role as I understand it, and I read his views as being very damning of the present state of affairs. Consider these quotes:

    – a sober assessment … will be necessary (para 1)
    – if cost implications are ignored for much longer (para 2)
    – injecting a large dose of practical sense in long-term plans for the province may help (para 4)
    – (example of the “perlious journey” in the UK) (para 5)
    – … dystopian energy future … seem to have forgotten … that cost matters and long-term sustainability of green energy options won’t be achieved without … innovation (para 6)

    I hope the new Minister is sitting down right now for serious chat with Dr. Nathwani.

  11. So do I.
    One has to keep in mind that the UN is playing a huge role in all this.
    And what is going on in Ontario and Canada relates to Carbon Pricing
    Already a 3 trillion Dollar commodity Market……in short it is about Money from your wallet.
    If the domino falls..the rest may follow.
    And we have huge dollars at stake…..with no benfit to you of course

  12. Turbine boss blows back


    Posted 4 hours ago

    The president of the company set to build four wind turbines east of Port Ryerse says opponents of the project already have their minds made up about wind power and won’t consider other points of view.

    Uwe Sandner, president of UDI Renewables Corporation of Nanticoke told Norfolk County council on Tuesday night he blames the Internet where “all kinds” of one-sided information against turbines is available.

    Sandner said he met opponents from the village and “tried to give them information, but in the end most of them didn’t want to listen. They believe it’s bad for your health and their property values will go down.”

    The make of turbine going up near Port Ryerse is “the quietest machine on the market” because it has no gear-box and is also “the most environmentally friendly,” he told elected officials.

    Under provincial law, companies looking to set up green energy projects go through Queen’s Park for approvals and municipalities have no power to stop them.

    Sandner, however, appeared before council to give officials “information up front regarding the project” before an open house with the public is held Nov. 15 at the Port Dover Lions Centre.

    Sandner, who lives in Nanticoke, said there is little opposition to turbines in his home country of Germany. It is, he noted, one-third the size of Ontario, far more densely populated, and has 25,000 wind turbines.

    “You hear nothing about health problems in Germany,” Sandner said. “In Germany, people are more concerned about cell-phones and microwaves.”

    Opposition to turbines instead comes from tourists, he said, who complain that they blight the views of churches hundreds of years old.

    Elected officials nevertheless questioned him about the project.

    Houghton Coun. Betty Chanyi raised the possibility the turbines would affect migrating birds and asked Sandner if he had contacted biologists and researchers.

    “We will do everything we have to do to make this project not negatively impact the area,” said Sandner.

    “We are introducing permanent structures into the area that is a major stopover for birds heading to the boreal forests and beyond,” replied Chanyi. “We can’t move them and get them out of the way once they get them here.”

    Council has heard multiple complaints from residents who live next to a wind farm in the far west end of the county.

    They insist the turbines have sickened them, and in some cases have forced them to move out of their homes, while sending their property values spiralling down.

    In Port Ryerse, a group of residents have formed a committee opposed to the UDI project.

    In an interview with the Reformer, committee member Larry Hoyt said he attended the meeting with Sandner and watched as opponents “threw” numerous questions about the impact of the project “at him that he couldn’t answer.”

    Hoyt said one of his concerns is the democratic loss from the Ontario Green Energy Act, which “stripped municipalities of their power” to deal with projects like the one in Port Ryerse.

    “It took away from citizens our right to have a voice,” said Hoyt. “We’ve been stripped of our democratic right.”

    Daniel Pearce

    519-426-3528 ext. 132 dpearce@bowesnet.com twitter.com/danreformer

    • Hey Turbine Boss
      Blame the Internet…….it draws the line between a free society and subversive one. The internet exposes the truth about all factions……it reveals the sham of the wind industry in this case.

  13. I suspect he is on the doll maybe owns land in Nanticoke which is my backyard where the vibrations in the bedrock near the surface will vibrate our home–He probablt stands to make a buck if he owns land in Nanticoke . We are not Germany dont bring your opinions here thank you .If you are so in agreement with Germany Leave Nanticoke
    The The air Canada strike was averted

  14. And that would be because Low Frequency Noise is a function of the Turbines noise output “beating” with other turbines noise output due to the other turbines operating at slightly different frequencies… but what do we know? As I recall — Wilkinson said turbines only “swish” — they don’t “beat” — but then for some reason Wilkinson is no longer with us…

    It’s all so confusing… 😉 swish swish, swish…

    • I thought the rhythmic sound (lower in register than what I would call a “swish”) resulted from blade passing column? Not from the gearbox?

    • Margaret:

      Specifying all the “sounds” from an IWT would take a long paper or a book. That’s one of them — but the infra-sound would almost have to be a “beat note”. There could be other sources though.

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