by Lorne Gunter, National Post
As my colleague Kelly McParland pointed out in a post on Sunday, the Ontario Liberal Government used Friday’s wall-to-wall coverage of Egypt’s revolution to announce yet another climbdown from its vaunted green-energy schemes. About the only thing left of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s obsession with converting his province from carbon energy to wind, solar, hydro and biofuels is sharply higher consumer energy prices. Higher power rates will be with Ontarians for decades after Mr. McGuinty’s green dreams have faded from memory.
Ah, the worst of both worlds: Ontarians will be getting very little new, “green” energy, but will be paying dearly for it. (Do ya think maybe it would have been smarter to stick with hydro and coal – and lower prices – from the start?)
Friday, the Ontario government announced it would build no wind-power turbines in the Great Lakes or any other freshwater sites around the province. Apparently the technology is unproven. If the Ontario government is to be believed, the decision was purely scientific and had nothing whatever to do with the turbines’ unpopularity with landowners and cottagers who would have found their views and moorages blocked by the unsightly towers.
Those of us cynical enough to think the Ontario Liberals backed down from wind power because it was wildly unpopular in rural ridings at risk of falling to the Tories in this fall’s election should be ashamed of ourselves, according to Energy Minister Brad Duguid. The Liberals’ reasoning was as pure as the driven snow. He told the Toronto Star, “There isn’t a lot of science on freshwater offshore wind … We need some time to review the science and we don’t have it today.”
Huh!? Aren’t scientific reviews something you’d want to have in the drawer before committing billions of tax dollars to an alternative-energy megaproject? Apparently not if you’re the vote-desperate, eco-fashionable McGuinty government.
Add this failure to last fall’s reversal on the Oakville gas-fired power plant and last week’s admission that small-scale solar-power plants are impractical to replace large-scale generation and it’s easy to argue that Mr. McGuinty and his cabinet leapt before looking when they passed their Green Energy Act in 2009. After encouraging thousands of Ontario farmers and other landowners to build small-scale solar projects, the McGuinty government has figured out there is no practical way to connect all these new solar panels to the provincial power grid.
Imagine the justifiable hue and cry from shareholders if a private power company bet its future on freshwater turbines or backyard solar panels without doing due diligence first.
But if the money you’re throwing around isn’t your own, and if you can order up billions more after you whiz the first batch away, and if the shareholders (in this case Ontario taxpayers) can’t reach out and fire you immediately, why would you worry about something as trivial as knowing in advance whether your multi-billion-dollar projects are feasible?
This is a prime example of what I call environmentalists’ “magic-wand” thinking: All that is needed for green technologies to replace existing energy sources – all that is needed to produce billions in green profits and millions of new, green jobs – is for government to wave a wand over an environmental problem.
Why has solar energy not replaced a large percentage of our coal-fired power already? If you follow environmentalists’ logic, the miraculous carbon-free energy future is not already our reality simply because no politician has stood up and voiced an incantation to make it so. It has nothing to do with practical considerations such as the ones Ontario’s government has run into headlong, i.e. it costs more to hook 10,000 rooftop solar panels to the grid than can be saved by generating power in this new-fashioned way.
Why haven’t wind energy, cow farts and corn mash replaced oil? According to greenies, it’s simply a lack of political will. In order to please their friends in the carbon economy, politicians have refused to take the small, simple steps that would put our economies and ways of life on the path to emissions-free sustainability.
Witness the way voters – especially young, urban voters – fell for Barack Obama’s promise of two million new eco-jobs if he was elected in 2008. Almost no one asked where and how these exciting new careers would be created. Supporters needed no explanation. They took it on faith that merely saying it would make it so.
This mentality is rooted in anti-market, pro-government indoctrination. It is based on economic ignorance and fed by a feeling that one’s self-identified moral superiority makes one’s every idea possible merely because one has thought it, along with millions of other progressive-minded individuals.
It is both smug and fanciful.
Such thinking assumes great conspiracies exist among industrialists to suppress viable technological alternatives and it presumes that governments are both more competent and less self-interested than businesses and the marketplace. Everywhere there are nasty free-marketers looking to defraud an ignorant public against whom the only guardians are noble politicians and public-good bureaucrats.
Why do environmentalists scoff every time economic assessments of eco treaties and regulations predict massive job losses? Because they have no idea what it takes to create a job. They never see that some economic ideas are more practical than others, which is why some succeed and others fail. Instead they believe that all ideas are equally doable and the ones that succeed were selected purely political reasons. In the case of alternative energy, they believe that non-emitting sources are already feasible, it just that Big Oil leans on its political friends to help it keep the public unaware or frightened of the possibilities.
That is just the kind of thinking Dalton McGuinty and his Ontario government were infected with when it envisioned the province’s green-energy future. It fancied itself uniquely qualified to wave the wand and change Ontario forever, without effort, exorbitant cost or economic dislocation.
Now, instead, it is beginning to see the fallacy of its green dream and it is backpeddling as fast as it dare.