Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lacking Greens, Ontario makes many eco-missteps

(Written for the Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner; published under the title "Green measures are great when properly delivered")

I’ve long observed the effect on governments of the growing Green movement. However, in the absence of elected Greens, other governing parties seem to stumble when enacting green measures.

Let’s look at Ontario. The Green Party of Ontario ran a full slate in 2007, won 8% of the vote, and almost took Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound’s “safe” Conservative seat. This surge was noticed by Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty, who swiftly followed up on green election promises like banning cosmetic pesticides. He then launched several new green initiatives, the most obvious being the “Green Energy and Green Economy Act” which name-checks the g-word twice!

That Act included a number of daring but sensible measures, like voiding senseless bans on outdoor clotheslines. Most significantly, it set an above-market price for new renewable energy (solar, wind, or biomass) to jump-start Ontario’s clean energy industry and create good “green-collar” jobs. Based on successful programs overseas and suggested in the Greens’ 2007 platform (but not McGuinty’s), these higher rates seem to be working to boost solar and wind industries. But implementation of this renewable push has been inconsistent. First, the province issued a massive $7 billion no-bid contract to Korea’s Samsung. Buying more wind energy is a good policy, but bypassing our own domestic firms in the process insults our Ontario businesses who deserve at least a fair chance to compete.

Now, a recent action is undermining the launch of solar. Although the MicroFIT ("Feed-In Tariff") contract promised a fixed rate for solar until the 2011program review, the province recently announced it will prematurely cut back the rate for ground-mounted projects. Just as our Ontario solar industry was gaining a foothold, they face having the rug pulled out from under them.

Energy issues dog McGuinty, and the next is local. The province decided it needed a new natural-gas “peaker” plant, and that it must be built in the Holland Marsh. While gas plants are a part of greening our grid, it is disappointing that the province has chosen a low-efficiency single-cycle model, and even worse that they are dropping it on one of our most productive farming areas. They’ve even exempted it from review under the Planning Act, much to the chagrin of the communities being forced to host it. Actions like this stain the green cloak McGuinty is so eager to wear.

Meanwhile, the new eco-fees from Stewardship Ontario remain a disaster-in-progress. The concept of fees on polluting products is sound, but only if properly implemented. Surprises at the cash register and applying the same fees to products regardless of how ecologically harmful, they actually undermine the moral and economic effectiveness of true pollution penalties, not to mention making them politically unpopular. (More on this in a future column.)

If, like me, you support green measures by government, contact your MPP and demand that the MicroFIT promises be honoured and that the proposed Holland Marsh peaker plant have a full, proper review. Don’t quietly accept two-steps-forward-one-step-back instead of real progress toward a sustainable economy. Ontario can do better.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

Follow-up action links:
  • Lots more on the foolish premature changes to the microFIT program here.
  • Campaign to save Holland Marsh from ill-considered peaker plant here.

This article was re-posted at the Green Party of Ontario site, and from there it made its way to Clear Politics.

Victory! - well, partial at least

Under pressure from the GPO and other groups, the province has decided to honour the full contract rate for anyone who had already applied for a contract under the microFIT, which means a lot of people who were facing potential losses will be able to meet their original solar investment plans.

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