Lawrence Solomon: Ontario power lesson

(Oct. 13, 2010) Notes for a speech that Ontario’s Opposition leader could give, but won’t, on the state of the province’s electricity sector.

Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is a keynote speaker tomorrow at the Ontario Energy Association. Here is the speech he should, but won’t, give.

Let me start by apologizing for my party’s role in putting this province on the path to ruin. We are now seeing massive energy price hikes in communities throughout the province. These hikes are just the beginning. Power rates in Ontario will be doubling or tripling in the years ahead. It would be tempting, but dishonest, to blame this all on the Liberals and on the NDP. We Conservatives have been every bit as much to blame. In some ways, perhaps, we are the most of all to blame, because we were the ones who pulled the plug on the privatization of the old Ontario Hydro system, a privatization we ourselves had begun.

I am referring, of course, to that day in 2002 when Ernie Eves, the last Conservative premier of this province, panicked and stopped the privatization that Mike Harris began. Had he showed some spine and the courage of his convictions, Ontario would now have a secure power system delivering some of the lowest power prices on the continent, just as occurred elsewhere after deregulation. Instead, the provincial economy struggles under the bureaucratic weight of an alphabet soup of government electricity monopolies with names like OPG, OPA and IESO.

These bureaucracies aren’t accountable to the public — most members of the public couldn’t even tell you what these bureaucracies do. No, these bureaucracies serve their political masters instead of their customers. The latest example of how government ownership works to the detriment of the greater good came just last week in Oakville, where the McGuinty government decided to cancel an unpopular power plant, for fear that it would otherwise lose a seat in the next election.

The McGuinty government has not yet owned up to the cost of that cancellation but some reports indicate it could reach hundreds of millions, and all to keep the Liberals from losing a single seat. This is but one example of the politicization of the power system, and but one reason that our power rates have been soaring.

Of course, that Oakville power plant should never have been ordered in the first place — it was the result of another political decision, a grand-standing decision to replace the province’s entire fleet of coal plants in favour of windmills and other forms of renewable energy. The windmills not only cost several times as much as coal, they are also unavailable most of the time, because the wind doesn’t blow on demand. To provide backup when the wind doesn’t blow, the citizens of Oakville were told they would need to live with a power plant for a neighbour.

Ladies and gentlemen, until today, I have failed to vigorously defend our province’s coal-generating stations — some of which are among the cleanest on the continent — and I have failed to vigorously attack the entirely unjustified wind and solar projects that are bankrupting our province.

I have also played the same game that my political opponents have played, by picking my own favourites — nuclear and hydroelectricity — as deserving of subsidies.

No longer. I am here to say that, if elected premier, I will not shut down our perfectly viable coal plants, I will not subsidize one more windmill or solar collector or nuclear reactor or hydroelectric plant. Instead of pretending that I and my party can pick better winners in the electricity business, I will let Ontario households and Ontario businesses choose by finishing the privatization that Mike Harris began. Once the power system is privatized, competing companies will be free to produce all the electricity from wind, solar, nuclear, coal — what have you — that Ontarians are willing to buy, as long as the power producers do it on their own dime, without subsidies of any kind.

I have come to the decision to put my faith in an electricity market free of politics after watching what happens when politicians call the shots. In the UK, the government has been piling on one green tax after another in pursuit of its vision of a so-called green energy future. Those taxes finally broke the citizenry. The British call it “fuel poverty” — some five million British citizens are now receiving welfare because they can’t meet their electricity payments, and the number on the dole is rising. Last week, the U.K.’s government regulator announced that, because of so-called green taxes, power rates would be rising another £769 a year, to bring the annual residential power bill to £2000. In Canadian dollars, we’re talking an annual price hike of $1,240, and an annual power bill of $3,200.

Thanks to our own Green Energy Act, fuel poverty has now come to Ontario, too. Several weeks ago, the McGuinty government announced that more than half of all the citizens of Northern Ontario will be receiving welfare payments to help them meet their energy bill. At about the same time, the government put senior citizens on the energy dole, too.

Europe has other lessons for us, too. The more that countries went green, the harder they fell. In Spain, the biggest green subsidizer of all, every green job that the government created cost more than two jobs elsewhere in the economy. Spain’s unemployment rate is now 20%, the highest in the developed world. To rescue its economy, it is slashing its green subsidies, leading to a wave of green companies filing for bankruptcy. Other European countries are also bailing out of this so-called green economy, in good part because their governments are discovering that industrial wind farms aren’t necessarily environmental. They gobble up farm land, destroy birds by the thousands, and pollute communities with noise. Because of community opposition, the largest grass-roots movement in the western world is no longer anti-nuclear but anti-wind.

To add insult to injury, even the one environmental benefit touted for wind — reduced greenhouse gas emissions — has proved a mirage. Our own Ontario Power Authority states that an aggressive program of building wind farms would actually increase our greenhouse gases emissions because of the fossil fuel backup that it would require.

This takes me to my final promise this morning. Until today, I have pussy-footed around in my criticism of the Green Energy Act. No longer. If elected, I will repeal The Green Energy Act as well as privatizing the power sector. I will end the politicization and bring Ontario back from the brink.

Financial Post, October 13, 2010, Lawrence Solomon

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and the author of The Deniers.

This entry was posted in Clean Coal, Climate Change, Coal, Conservation, Costs, Benefits and Risks, Fossil Fuels, Power Generation in Ontario, Reforming Ontario's Local Electrical Distribution Sector, Renewables. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Lawrence Solomon: Ontario power lesson

  1. Roger Gagne says:

    Well Lawrence, for an environmentalist, you certainly are fond of coal.

    You want producers to supply power without subsidies? Just try to pry the fossil fuel subsidies out of their fingers. The G20 couldn’t do it a few months ago. Obama took a potshot at it and then let the issue die out.

    Have you written anything about our federal budgets? Do you remember Canada’s Economic Action Plan (note the accompanying trumpet sounds); our 2009 budget? The one that gave $351 million to nuclear and $850 million to CCS (carbon capture and storage)?

    Oh, and did you notice that the 360 page document never once mentioned the word “renewable”?

    And don’t forget my own provincial government which gave $2 billion to CCS.

    Too many birds and bats are killed by wind turbines. Thanks for addressing this. But I hope you mention next time around that more birds are killed by cars, power lines, and office buildings.

    I haven’t visited the Energy Probe website in a very long time. Now that I have, I’m starting to wonder why you seem trapped in the 20th century.

    • Lawrence Solomon says:

      You seem to think that I support subsidies to Carbon Capture and Storage. You might look up my articles on CCS — you’d see I’m a leading critic, which isn’t hard because there are so few critics.

      Energy Probe opposes subsidies to all energy producing and energy consuming industries. If our policies were in place, society would be building neither nuclear plants — which your organization opposes — nor wind megaprojects — which your organization supports. Conservation (as well as coal) would be a big winner.

      Rather than acting as an apologist for the immense environmental harm for which wind is now responsible for (see my next column, to be published tomorrow), why not stand up for the environment?

  2. Roger Gagne says:

    Hi Lawrence,

    Thanks for your reply; I, in turn, have a few responses.

    Sadly, with low electricity prices and a decades-long habit of waste, we hardly practice energy conservation in Alberta. On any given day I can show you dozens of homes and businesses that leave their porch lights lit up all day under bright sunlight; why bother turning them off, anyway?

    I wasn’t trying to say you support subsidies for CCS. What I was getting at was the idea that until and unless we remove the subsidies for nuclear and fossil fuels, then giving support to renewables is entirely appropriate.

    I would argue that Alberta’s plan for $20 billion worth of transmission upgrades is another subsidy, as these huge power lines lend themselves not to a stable decentralized grid incorporating renewables and distributed power like cogeneration, but rather long-distance shipping of power, likely for export, from large centralized generators, whether coal or nuclear fired. This plan has been called a “massive overbuild” by critics including the U of C School of Public Policy, WADE Canada, the Pembina Institute, Enmax Power, and the Independent Power Consumers Association of Alberta.

    Our own health would be another subsidy… did you see last year’s assessment by the National Academy of Sciences, as reported in the New York Times, which said that health care costs in the U.S. amount to $120 billion annually?

    Finally, I’m no great fan of wind megaprojects, though they might actually be more cost-effective and less damaging than coal or nuclear megaprojects. What I much prefer, and what can be strongly promoted by a well-thought out feed-in tariff, is a suite of renewable sources as well as efficient options like cogen and recovered industrial waste heat. And let’s pay attention to how Pennsylvania does, harvesting electricity off of braking trains coming into the railway yards.

  3. Jason Bateman says:

    There really isn’t any point in visiting this website or reading any of this unless you are a firm climate change denier. Coal power? Are you kidding?

    All this from the owner of the ‘green beanery’

    It is rather deceptive to wrap this organization in a cloak of green. You don’t promote renewable energy or any other solutions, you just want to take us back to the 1800’s.

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