By Grant Robertson, NDP Federal Candidate for Huron Bruce
I admit I was excited by the first few industrial scale wind towers going up in our area. We took our kids to see them regularly because we wanted them to see the beginning of what we thought would be a positive future. Boy was I naive. There is some solace in knowing I was not even close to alone in this hopeful naiveté – including the act of taking children to see the construction.
While Ontario Coordinator of the National Farmers Union I took a lot of criticism for being the first prominent rural Ontarian to begin to question where we are going as a province with regard to industrial wind and some very undemocratic aspects of the Green Energy Act. Leadership is never easy and I took a lot of public and private abuse for just bringing up those issues. But if you are in public life for the right reasons, taking a stand is really not all that difficult. And I am speaking out again because remaining silent is not an option if you care about our communities or our shared future. As a federal candidate it would be easy to try to hide from this issue, but that’s not me, nor is it leadership.
I want to be clear. I support alternative and renewable energy 100%. It is and will increasingly need to be a major part of the mix for electricity generation in years and decades to come as the need to try and move away from fossil fuel energy production is clear. But the Ontario government has completely messed up, not just alternative energy in this province, but all generation; you need only look at your hydro bill to figure that out.
The most vulnerable amongst us should never be asked to pay the lion’s share of the cost of fixing societal problems. But this is exactly what we are doing as we jack up hydro rates, since it will be the poor, seniors, working families and low and middle income workers who will pay a disproportionate share of the costs of the failed McGuinty power schemes.
There are many problems with this rush to industrialize wind energy, but I want to focus on economics and community control.
The cheapest way to build new generation is to not build it. The fundamental failure of energy policy over almost two decades has been the lack of serious conservation programs and incentives. Oh we have done a bit around the edges, but it has been mostly window-dressing and left most of the cost burden on the individual, and as we know life is getting more and more unaffordable already, so finding the upfront cash for serious conservation measures is out of the reach for most modest income folks. Before we build new generation we need to be using what we have more efficiently. This will not only save energy, it will save average people a lot of money on their electrical bills.
That’s not to say we do not need to invest in new generation or re-furbish what we have. That’s a given as things wear out, needs change and production techniques improve. We need to find ways to dramatically reduce smog and other air pollution and reduce our need for fossil fuels. This need is part of what makes the Liberal government’s energy plan so backwards and frankly deceptive. We are not replacing dirty coal with clean wind. That is a complete and utter attempt to mislead Ontarians. What we are really doing is replacing dirty coal with dirty natural gas because both wind and solar, as intermittent producers, must be paired with another generation source to ensure you can heat your home at 3 am on a -30 degree night. Heating your home is not an option, but wind- due to its very nature, is not available 100 per cent of the time so a ‘back up’ is crucial and that paired energy production source tends to actually be needed a lot of the time. So let’s be honest with each other. What we are really doing is replacing fossil fuel with fossil fuel. We are replacing coal (which pollutes) with gas which causes fine particle pollution that is at least as dangerous (and some researchers say even more dangerous to human lungs). We are spending untold millions to replace a fossil fuel with a fossil fuel. That makes no environmental, health, economic or even common sense.
We are also missing the boat in terms of real economic growth for Ontario. Individual generation of our own energy would benefit the economy far more than the current plan of industrial wind developments. Whether as an individual or a business, by creating our own power first and foremost, we would be dramatically reducing our costs after we paid for the installation. At today’s soaring electrical rates that pay off would come sooner rather than later. We would reduce the need for costly new generation, but we would also be able to store some of the excess energy we produce for later needs since the technology exists for small storage, but not province-wide or even regional energy storage. That technology is here right now and with government investment it would have driven down the price and spurred innovation. But our federal government is so intertwined with big oil they do not want you to reduce your costs or dependence on fossil fuels. By having our own net-metered solar panels and to a lesser degree small-scale wind, we could have saved money, reduced corporate tax giveaways, reduced pollution, not imposed industrial wind sites on communities and neighbours that don’t want them and created more local and lasting jobs. This is something I will work hard to promote, not just for the jobs it will create and the positive impact it will have on our environment, but also because it will save families, seniors, working people and local businesses a lot of money on their energy bills, making life a little bit more affordable.
What the government has done is get energy policy almost completely backwards. This government has subsidized huge companies with taxpayer dollars, trampled over local communities, and dismissed, almost in stamp-your-foot childish terms, anyone who raises any objection of any kind. They point to their supposedly strict guidelines even though they lag behind most other jurisdictions around the world. They attack professionals who raise cautions based on their expertise. They claim job growth that is mostly short term or use over-blown estimates that have not materialized. Communities that try to find ways to create power for themselves and to keep the benefits in their community have often been denied their applications. In short Ontario is doing little for the environment, little for communities and failing in our long term energy needs. And our federal government has shown no leadership, or even basic understanding of the possibilities for a positive future by investing in Canadians instead of off-shore mega-corporations.
A government that must remove community control in order to ram through a project is not acting in the best interests of people. They are in fact working in the best interests of insiders, donors and big business. Communities have a right to shape their future as they see fit and to decide whether or not they want this type of development. As someone who has a long public and private track record on protecting our water, fighting pollution and trying to ensure the long term health of our land I know that one of the tools of those who threaten these things is to remove control from local communities. Their idea of consultation is to come into our communities and tell us what they are going to do; not ask us what we want and need. You and I have seen this tactic before many times. It is distressing that those who should know better are supporting a government that is trying to hoodwink us.
There is a progressive, forward looking way to address alternative energy. We could have a green future that promotes positive growth and jobs. We could have an approach that respects and empowers communities and the concerns of those having to live amongst these developments. We could have an approach that is a net positive for our environment, instead of political game playing and sleight of hand. We could have an approach that actually addresses fossil fuel use and doesn’t just change from one dirty polluting type to another dirty polluting type.
When I naively got excited about the first towers going up, my vision was not of a system where local control was removed, where big money corporate interests would control everything, where renewables were just being fed into the grid to support excess consumption and where our system would be based on private profit paid for by some of the most vulnerable in our society. Ontario has gotten industrial wind energy totally wrong. They have turned the vision many of us shared and hoped for on its head. I will not stay silent when leadership is so sorely needed. I have always been focused on finding solutions- and solutions are possible on industrial wind issues- but they won’t be found by political grandstanding or denying that there are not real problems effecting real people in real communities.
This is the sort of thing that got me involved in public life in the first place. In 2003 I was convinced to enter public life in part because of the concern I had over the way our energy and hydro system was being changed. We have moved away from a power at cost model for the people of Ontario to now one that is based on private corporate control with built in guaranteed profit. As someone who runs a farm business I sure wish we could get such a sweetheart deal that guarantees us a high profit level and were our products must be bought at that high profit level no matter what. Certainly the experience of January the 1rst, 2011 where we actually had to pay American customers to buy our excess power off of us shows how odd our hydro system has become after 10 years of pushing for privatization under the Conservatives and Liberals.
With a system becoming so backwards in terms of priorities we need a breather on further construction of industrial wind sites until we get this right, as it is soon approaching the time when we will not be able to fix many of the problems. Communities that do decide they want to invest together in alternative energy production need supports put in place to ensure they can benefit from these projects directly and that they are done in the manner and locations as they see fit to protect rural ways of life, the landscape and the shape of their community’s future. That is going to take leadership and it is going to take a federal government that gets involved to provide assistance, direction and vision not meet our future needs and to protect our environment for generations to come.
I support alternative and renewable energy production but I will not remain silent as we lurch towards a costly energy quagmire based on privatization, greed, misinformation, the undermining of local democracy and communities and that puts us on the road to just replacing one fossil fuel with another- never solving anything, but driving up your costs as a family or a business. As your MP I will work hard for programs that will help you reduce your heating costs by providing meaningful assistance for insulation, air tight windows and more efficient and renewable heating through an NDP revamped ecoEnergy retrofit program and helping you produce your own energy dramatically reducing your hydro bills. Just like the NDP campaign to make home heating tax free, one of my primary goals is to find ways to make life more affordable and reducing energy costs could be a big part of that. We should be putting communities that want to find solutions to our problems first, not last, in terms of supporting their aspirations for their futures. This is where we should be putting our taxes, not making insiders and large corporations rich at our expense.
Public life is about leadership. Leadership means standing up for you and our community. It is not turning tail and hiding because the issues are controversial. I have a long record of putting the needs of our community first. As your MP I will continue to stand up and be counted. I will not hide on a backbench or hope controversial issues just go away. What is happening in our community with industrial wind is simply put- wrong. We need to stop, take a breather and fix it before it is too late. But beyond that we need to work together to find ways to meet the real problems we are facing in terms of fossil fuel use, soaring energy prices and protecting our natural heritage for generations to come. Leadership is about standing up, but even more important leadership is about finding solutions that work for us and our community. It is time for a new kind of leadership in Huron-Bruce, leadership that cares about you.
For those who are interested in seeing the entire position statement you can visit Grant’s Facebook page, Grant Robertson for Huron-Bruce MP. Grant is encouraging anyone who wants to make a comment or ask a question to do it on Facebook as he wants to be as accessible as possible to the people of Huron-Bruce. For those not online you can request a copy of the statement by contacting Grant at 1-855-353-5609