Saturday, April 8, 2017

Green electric plans are great

(One of the 4-part series "Game of Shells" about the electricity plans of Ontario's 4 major political parties)

Over the past decade or more, Ontario’s electricity prices have steadily risen. Once a bastion of too-cheap electricity, far below national or world averages, Ontario’s prices are now more in line with global rates, which has been painful for a population long accustomed to receiving subsidized electricity for a relative pittance. Because old habits are hard to break with infrastructure already in place, we seems stuck with paying the bill whatever it is, causing cries to turn back the clock and lower rates again. If only it were so simple!
Of course this creates huge political pressure, so both the Liberal government and the NDP opposition party have advanced plans to lower bills and the PC opposition has promised their own plan soon. However, none of these plans seem to do much to truly lower the real cost of providing electricity; all they do is push it off to future generations, or move it from the power bill to the tax bill, still leaving us (or our children) to pay, in what I’ve called “The Game of Shells”.
What it comes down to is that there are only 3 real ways to reduce electricity prices: produce electricity at lower cost, buy it from other places for lower prices, or simply use less of it. Cancelling existing commitments, as we learned with gas plants, is either impossible or horribly expensive.
We can’t just wave a magic wand and make cheaper power: climate pressures mean we must shift off the old “cheap” fossil fuels like coal and natural gas or pay a premium for carbon emissions. Nuclear brands itself as an affordable “carbon free” source but always costs far more than expected and provides less power than promised, years behind schedule. A big part of today’s high costs cover vast nuclear power overruns from the past. Large-scale new hydro is challenging, while wind, solar, and small hydro are becoming more affordable but present challenges in matching supply and demand which require better management or new power storage facilities. The best we can do in this area is avoid committing to costly new nukes and curtail expensive refurbishment or life-extension operations at existing plants, instead allowing them to retire on schedule.
Glowing object reported hovering over writer's head
On the other hand, there is a huge opportunity for us to use more clean, cheap hydro from Quebec. Not only is this a better deal than pouring more money down our own nuclear pit, it also lets us balance peaks and valleys of renewable generation by “banking” power behind large hydro dams, essentially storing surplus renewable energy until needed. There are other technologies we can implement within Ontario allowing us to store energy between when it is produced and when we need it, narrowing the expensive supply-demand gap.
The most important and reliable way to reduce power bills will always be to use less to begin with. No matter the price, the less you use, the less you pay! While government and opposition plans feature some meagre conservation measures, we need a major commitment of resources to upgrading our business and household technology so we can more efficiently use electricity, or draw more of it at times of low demand, which will reduce overall costs.
Luckily there is another opposition party which has long promoted solutions like this, and on Sunday you can be a part of that conversation. Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner will be in the region this Sunday, April 9, ready to listen to your ideas and share his on how we can truly lower electricity costs, not just move them around. He’ll be at the Innisfil Public Library Lakeshore Branch’s Community Room from 1:30 – 2:30, then at the Grilled Cheese Social Eatery at 53 Dunlop St. E. in Barrie at 6. You are welcome to attend either (or both) of these events and discuss concrete actions to lower Ontario’s electricity costs. Take this chance to be proactive and seize the (electrical) power in your own hands!

Published in the Barrie Examiner as Root Issues: Greener electricity plans out there we can tap into 

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins serves on the boards of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

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