Thursday, June 13, 2013

Energy ire valid but misdirected

People are rightly upset about energy and its costs and risks. Sadly, though, a lot of misinformation keeps circulating, with people pointing fingers in the wrong direction.
The favourite whipping-boy is renewable energy. Columns and letters in this very paper constantly repeat outright false information, from risks to costs to effects.
One constant misstatement is that Ontario’s push for green energy drives electric bill hikes, even though the analyses clearly show it’s actually legacy costs from nuclear power plus overpriced supply contracts with all sources, including supposedly cheap gas and (for a little while, still) coal. Wind is only a tiny sliver of the bill while solar doesn’t even register.
Another myth is the supposed harms or risks of wind turbines. A recent letter vastly exaggerated both, speaking of “millions” of bird deaths when the real figure is in the thousands. Anyone truly concerned about bird deaths would focus on roads, power lines, pesticides, windows, or cats, each of which kills at least a thousand or ten-thousand times as many birds as turbines do. And the idea that it’s dangerous near the CAW’s wind turbine because it might break or fall down is just silly. Any tall thing might drop a piece or fall over, but you have more risk of getting hit by a falling tree or building tile (or lightning!) than any part of a highly-engineered wind turbine. In fact, no bystander has ever been injured or killed by a wind turbine, anywhere in the world. Contrast this with a real risk to your health: the cars CAW members build. (Who can’t name someone injured or killed in a car accident?)
Of course, the biggest change our energy supply needs is a price on carbon pollution, putting all energy sources on a level playing field. Right now, the market is tipped dangerously in favour of fossil fuels, which receive huge government support that dwarfs the piddling subsidies to wind or solar which seem to upset some people. From provincial governments that let tar sands avoid paying full royalties, to the federal government bribing them to clean up their act a little while they increase emissions, to flow-through tax credits for finding more carbon that must stay in the ground while luring limited investment dollars away from new, clean technology, it’s time we stopped shovelling tax money to the most profitable industry in the world. And here’s a number to put that into perspective: these subsidies amount to almost $800 per Canadian per year (according to this IMF report). That’s right, you’re being overtaxed by $800 every year to subsidize fossil fuels. That’s 3 days of income for the average Canadian! This money should be going into a clean energy future, not the deep pockets of dirty energy dinosaurs.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Renewable energy always a favourite whipping boy".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

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