Eleanor Grant comments on Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan

Conservation — Good But We Can Do Better

I greatly appreciate Ontario’s efforts to help homeowners with the cost of conservation measures such as more efficient furnaces and better windows. I also appreciate efforts to build more transit and reduce car use. Much more needs to be done to reach northern communities. Please restore Ontario Northland rail service and expand it. And please do everything possible to expedite rail service on the Kitchener line.

Electricity Supply Mix — Greatly Increase Renewable

The decision to back out of contracts for renewable energy was short-sighted. Please revisit these contracts and ask whether the subsidies could be reduced or eliminated, now that costs are rapidly falling. What Ontario REALLY needs to do is invest in large-scale renewable energy as a public corporation, as we did a hundred years ago with Niagara. Costs are now becoming manageable to buy in and operate such facilities in the public interest. Dalton McGuinty should not have backed down on off-shore wind. Please recommit to off-shore wind, with the lessons learned about obtaining buy-in and participation from affected communities. Please make it easier for small producers to provide their own on-site generation and/or be paid for feeding into the grid. This is the appropriate role for the private sector, NOT the ownership of megaprojects. Encourage local co-ops, First Nations, and municipalities to generate renewable power for local use, including micro hydro. I was pleased to hear that Ontario is entering into agreements with Quebec and Manitoba to purchase hydro power from them. Given all of these real and potential opportunities to increase the renewable supply share, Ontario should set a target for 100% Renewable.

Electricity Supply Mix — Phase Out Nuclear

The Ministry discussion guide states that Ontario plans to rely on nuclear power for the foreseeable future for baseload capacity. Sinking billions more into Darlington and Bruce, and squeezing more years out of Pickering, seems like a huge waste of money. Not to speak of the proximity to population centres and the still unknown cost of future disposal of radioactive waste. We must stop refurbishing Darlington, and set a target for getting out of nuclear power. A combination of local renewable generation, rapidly improving storage technology, and an overall shifting toward conservation and publicly owned large-scale renewable would make possible an increasing share of baseload capacity being reliably borne by renewable sources. Phasing out nuclear is doable.

Public Ownership Is Key — Start By Buying Back Hydro One

Note that leasing out Bruce Power – so that a foreign company could reap profits from operating it while leaving the cost of decommissioning the plant and disposing of the waste to the public – was a bad deal for hydro consumers and the public purse. As for Hydro One, taxpayers are losing hundreds of millions in revenue in perpetuity by selling it. We also lose influence and control, since there’s nothing to stop the shares from being sold and resold and eventually amalgamated by a many-steps-removed foreign investor. Seriously what could Ontario do to stop that from happening? Ontario is going to need a set of policies to facilitate: transmission of power from Quebec and Manitoba, transmission to First Nations and remote communities, transmission to the Ring of Fire, “net metering” with small producers, and possibly the cession of more control over local generation. ALL of these policies are likely to be resisted by private owners. Note as well, that many Local Distributing Companies are in danger of being bought up by Hydro One, resulting in massive loss of municipal control as Hydro One passes to private owners. It’s hard to imagine anything much more short-sighted than losing the ownership of our electricity grid. It’s costly to the treasury, and forecloses on the policy options we will need to prepare for the future. Ontario must reverse course right now, stop any more IPOs of shares in Hydro One, and diligently buy back what has been sold.

Those Rising Costs — Green Energy Is Not The Cause

Ontarians would be willing to pay if we were building public assets for the future, in which we could all take pride and hope. We are not willing to pay for subsidies to large players in a market that’s already shifting toward renewables in terms of costs and profitability. We are not willing to pay for keeping Pickering alive while selling surplus power at a loss. We are not willing to pay for refurbishing Darlington when cheaper alternatives exist. We are not willing to pay for the loss of public revenue that was ours from Hydro One, and for the exorbitant salaries of consultants and managers to handle the privatization. We are not willing to risk also losing our LDCs and municipal control over them.

Conclusion — Reducing Costs And Raising The Funds

Transitioning to 21st century energy will take investment, in renewable projects, transit, EV charging networks, and more. The cost of doing this can be reduced by committing to phase out nuclear, by recommitting to public power and getting rid of corporate subsidies, and by buying INTO renewables now that the cost is falling. But the public will still have to raise funds, perhaps through a mix of a modest increase in rates (not like the ones we’ve seen — many of these need to be investigated and rolled back), combined with a modest increase in income taxes (people might have more trust if the levy were earmarked), the promotion of Green Bonds, and the facilitation of hundreds of local co-ops. There are solutions, lots of them, if public trust is regained. I hope to have shown here some ways that the general public and government can happily work together to build a 21st century long-term energy plan for Ontario.

Author: Eleanor Grant

Eleanor Grant writes an occasional e-mail newsletter on social justice issues.