By Marlo Raynolds
Put yourself in the position of being responsible to satisfy: over four million customers who want the lights to go on 100 percent of the time and power never to cost more than last year; hard-working electrical workers wanting job security and more jobs; people living anywhere near or who can see any kind of energy infrastructure; companies who want to have a reason to invest in Ontario; and oh, save the environment while you are at it.
For all the headaches that electricity might create for politicians across the country, Ontario recently struck a difficult but pragmatic balance in its Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP).
Let’s look at a few, often contentious, issues Ontario had to wrestle through in developing the 2013 LTEP.
The move from the Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) to a competitive approach for large renewable projects makes total sense moving forward. The FIT helped establish the industry in Ontario, attracted billions of dollars in investment, and created thousands of jobs – in short, it put Ontario on the global renewable energy map. The program was much more than just producing affordable electricity, it kick-started a whole new industry for Ontario.
Building on this base, the province can now shift to an annual competitive process, which will force companies to compete to provide the best value to Ontario consumers. This move will encourage the established renewable energy sector to remain active in Ontario and will continue to attract investment. This long-term commitment will retain and grow jobs and expertise for decades to come.
Successful development of renewable energy, like many things, is all about location, location, location. The LTEP’s approach to regional planning, enhanced community engagement, and further expanding the involvement of aboriginal communities will go a long way to strengthening local understanding and support for project development. As a project developer involved in two commercial partnerships with First Nations, it is very exciting to see renewable energy become a real economic development opportunity for First Nations communities.
For the smaller scale renewable energy projects (think rooftop solar), the LTEP again found the pragmatic solution; keep the feed-in-tariff so that individuals can be part of providing electricity to the grid. On my own home I am producing as much power as I am consuming on an annual basis. It’s very empowering for people to be part of the solution.
On nuclear power, let me be clear, I am not a huge fan. The industry has a history of over promising and under delivering on price and performance. I am pleased to see at this time that no new nuclear power plants will be built. Dollar-for-dollar and when all costs are included, I just don’t think new nuclear is competitive compared to other options. However, the LTEP’s approach to refurbishment of the existing fleet makes economic sense at this time, and keeps greenhouse gas emissions in check.
Probably of most importance is the LTEP’s commitment to energy efficiency. Financially it is a no-brainer, and I think consumers, equipped with the right tools, will be able to keep their electricity bills down by simply doing more with less electricity. It does require people to do some work and take responsibility. Particularly, it will be important to ensure low-income families on those on fixed incomes are included in conservation programs, as they are most sensitive to increased electricity costs.
Unfortunately, what we have seen so far from the Ontario Progressive Conservatives is more about power politics, as opposed to actually thinking pragmatically. The PCs seem to believe scrapping renewable energy projects will save the day, and that building new nuclear plants is the way to go. The economics and electricity demand clearly indicate “new nukes not needed”.
The Ontario Liberals have had the guts to convey a difficult but real truth: energy is going to be more expensive going forward than it has been in the past, period. So for all provincial politicians across Canada, take note, campaigning on a promise of cheaper electricity prices is misguided. The fact is that replacing aging infrastructure costs more now than in the past. Those who say they can keep electricity prices the same, or lower, are not telling the whole truth or are hiding the true cost elsewhere. Let’s hope the Ontario LTEP inspires other provinces to think pragmatically about finding the right balance.
The LTEP essentially says Ontario is going to make pragmatic use of all the power options available to us – conservation, wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, and even gas. As a developer of large-scale renewable electricity projects in Ontario, would we prefer to see a massive commitment to more renewables? Of course. But at this point in time in Ontario, while the LTEP’s approach is slower, it strikes a good balance for sustained growth in renewable energy.
As a former leader of the Pembina Institute, I applaud Ontario’s commitment to rapidly and substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution from electricity production. The achievement of eliminating coal is something every person in Ontario should be proud of and brag about everywhere.
Dr. Marlo Raynolds is the former Executive Director of the Pembina Institute and is currently the Vice President of Market Development at BluEarth Renewables Inc.