By Lorne Small
The Ontario Green Energy Act is a courageous move by the Ontario government to kickstart a new vision of sustainable energy. You have to applaud a government that is prepared to tackle a global issue like climate change even if serious debate remains regarding whether climate change is caused by normal global cycles or by human contributions.
Many farm families have benefited from the Green Energy Act by participating in the Micro FIT (Feed-In- Tariff) solar panel program. They have been able to diversify their farm business into an enterprise that guarantees a fair return for the next 20 years. Outside of supply management these types of opportunities seldom are available to farmers. However many other farm families have real apprehension with the introduction of wind turbines into their neighbourhood. They must live with some of the potential problems while not sharing in the rewards.
Ontario farmers and the Ontario Auditor General, Jim McCarter, share some of the same concerns. Mr. McCarter expressed concern that the Green Energy Act overrides existing legislation to approve wind and solar projects without the normal planning and oversight process. The government hoped that 50,000 jobs would be created. But the auditor notes that studies in other jurisdictions show that for every job created up to four other jobs may be lost.
He also questioned the $7 billion Samsung deal which was signed with no formal economic analysis. When completed, this project will cover large acreages of farm land with fields of solar panels. This concerns many farm communities when food-producing farmland is in high demand.
Ontario has had a history of providing electricity that was both reliable and cost competitive. Unfortunately, wind and solar does not meet either objective. When the wind does not blow, or the sun does not shine, energy generation is minimal. To replace the green electricity that is not being generated, fossil fuel generators must be on standby and quickly activated to maintain reliability. Frequently, green electricity is generated when demand is low, creating an oversupply.
The rates paid for green electricity are substantially higher than conventional electricity, adding $220 million annually to the cost of electricity. Both urban and rural consumers are becoming increasingly concerned with the escalating cost of electricity. It may not be fair but the Green Energy Act is being singled out as part of the problem.
Now is the time for the Ontario Government to undertake a sober re-evaluation of the path to a greener energy system. Serious long term thinking is required. Options on the table should include using waste materials, conservation as well as renewable and non-renewable sources.
Thoughtful consultation with energy feasibility professionals and a wide range of citizens will inject a high degree of common sense as we move down the road to a sustainable energy system.
Lorne Small is the President of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario