A new kind of wood; and energizing trash

A couple of things. I have a column today that looks at a small B.C.-based company called JER Envirotech, which makes a wood-plastic composite that can be used to replace wood/plywood in building construction and a slew of other applications, from the making of toys and furniture to parts for vehicles. The attraction? The material resists moisture, bugs, rot, mould, and warping. It can be recycled and made into other products. It uses wood waste, not trees, and uses far less than your typical panel board or plywood. It costs more, but like compact fluorescent bulbs the return on investment comes with its longevity. Anyway, worth a look… I know there are other companies playing in this field but JER appears to have a unique approach.

My Clean Break podcast this week is an interview with Rod Bryden, CEO of Plasco Energy Group, which is building an energy-from-waste pilot plant in Ottawa that, if it works, could set the stage for larger projects across Ontario. Bryden talks about the technology and attempts to address the concerns of some environmentalists.

Gore has right to speak out on “global” issue

Some people just amaze me. A day after former U.S. vice-president Al Gore called the Harper government’s green plan a “complete and total fraud,” it didn’t take long for critics to rush in and tell Mr. Gore to keep his views to himself. Why? They argue that Gore, as a U.S. citizen, doesn’t have a right to stick his nose in Canadian politics.

I’m sorry, but climate change is a global issue. Everyone has the right to criticize ANY government’s policies on this file. What Canada is doing with the oil sands affects more than just Canadians. This also isn’t a political issue; it’s a moral one, as Gore rightly reminds his audiences whenever he makes his climate-change presentation. Canadians can’t vote for Gore (though I wish we could), so there’s no politics at work here.

I had the opportunity to see Gore give his presentation on Saturday evening at the Hummingbird Centre in downtown Toronto. I was truly impressed and inspired, partly because after nearly 2,000 presentations Gore still puts on a good show. He’s passionate, articulate, eager to take questions and well-equipped to defend his views against the skeptics. After the presentation, many people went across the street to the Hockey Hall of Fame for a cocktail reception. My wife and I hung back (we’re not big on cocktail receptions), but then we noticed Gore head towards the doors. We decided to follow him inside. Turns out he wanted to see the Stanley Cup, which is kept at the Hall of Fame. There were only a few people around him, so we had a chance to say hello and exchange a few words. Gore was at ease, engaged and genuine. A class act.

We’re at a crucial juncture in our lives, and Gore and others with equal commitment and drive should be commended for their service. On that note, I leave you with a little story that David Suzuki shared at a bioenergy conference I attended earlier this month in Hearst, Ontario:

“My daugher Severn is 27 years old, and she’s been an environmental activist ever since she was seven years old. A few months ago she said to me, ‘Dad, I think this is the most exciting time to be alive in all of human history.’ She said this is the moment, in the following months and a few years, we are going to have to make some big decisions. Because if we make the right decisions, or if we fail to make the decisions, it’s going to determine the fate, not only of all human kind, but of countless species of plants and animals. This is the defining moment, she said, when we will decide whether or not we’re going to be a spectacular Flash in the Pan failure, or whether we can step up to the plate and show that we are capable of finding humility, compassion, patience and wisdom to truly find a sustainable path. As I reflected on her comment, I’ve come to the conclusion she’s absolutely right.”

On related matters, I had a story in Sunday’s Toronto Star called “Still Within Our Grasp” about the mounting pressure on Ontario now that the federal government has dropped the ball on its green plan. Ontario is expected to release its own climate plan in the coming weeks, and it will be interesting to see if a serious attempt is made to comply with Kyoto targets on a provincial level. It has become increasingly clear that action here will need to come from a provincial and state level, as federal governments in both Canada and the United States don’t get it. I can only hope that a year from now we’ll have a regime change in both countries and a new path.

Gore has right to speak out on “global” issue

Some people just amaze me. A day after former U.S. vice-president Al Gore called the Harper government’s green plan a “complete and total fraud,” it didn’t take long for critics to rush in and tell Mr. Gore to keep his views to himself. Why? They argue that Gore, as a U.S. citizen, doesn’t have a right to stick his nose in Canadian politics.

I’m sorry, but climate change is a global issue. Everyone has the right to criticize ANY government’s policies on this file. What Canada is doing with the oil sands affects more than just Canadians. This also isn’t a political issue; it’s a moral one, as Gore rightly reminds his audiences whenever he makes his climate-change presentation. Canadians can’t vote for Gore (though I wish we could), so there’s no politics at work here.

I had the opportunity to see Gore give his presentation on Saturday evening at the Hummingbird Centre in downtown Toronto. I was truly impressed and inspired, partly because after nearly 2,000 presentations Gore still puts on a good show. He’s passionate, articulate, eager to take questions and well-equipped to defend his views against the skeptics. After the presentation, many people went across the street to the Hockey Hall of Fame for a cocktail reception. My wife and I hung back (we’re not big on cocktail receptions), but then we noticed Gore head towards the doors. We decided to follow him inside. Turns out he wanted to see the Stanley Cup, which is kept at the Hall of Fame. There were only a few people around him, so we had a chance to say hello and exchange a few words. Gore was at ease, engaged and genuine. A class act.

We’re at a crucial juncture in our lives, and Gore and others with equal commitment and drive should be commended for their service. On that note, I leave you with a little story that David Suzuki shared at a bioenergy conference I attended earlier this month in Hearst, Ontario:

“My daugher Severn is 27 years old, and she’s been an environmental activist ever since she was seven years old. A few months ago she said to me, ‘Dad, I think this is the most exciting time to be alive in all of human history.’ She said this is the moment, in the following months and a few years, we are going to have to make some big decisions. Because if we make the right decisions, or if we fail to make the decisions, it’s going to determine the fate, not only of all human kind, but of countless species of plants and animals. This is the defining moment, she said, when we will decide whether or not we’re going to be a spectacular Flash in the Pan failure, or whether we can step up to the plate and show that we are capable of finding humility, compassion, patience and wisdom to truly find a sustainable path. As I reflected on her comment, I’ve come to the conclusion she’s absolutely right.”

On related matters, I had a story in Sunday’s Toronto Star called “Still Within Our Grasp” about the mounting pressure on Ontario now that the federal government has dropped the ball on its green plan. Ontario is expected to release its own climate plan in the coming weeks, and it will be interesting to see if a serious attempt is made to comply with Kyoto targets on a provincial level. It has become increasingly clear that action here will need to come from a provincial and state level, as federal governments in both Canada and the United States don’t get it. I can only hope that a year from now we’ll have a regime change in both countries and a new path.

Scheer strikes back at Khosla…

If you read Vinod Khosla’s critique of German environmentalist Herman Scheer, then you’ll want to read this retort from the man himself. Scheer decided to respond to Khosla by writing a rebuttal for CNET’s News.com. In a nutshull, he calls Khosla’s viewpoint naive, contradictory and an example of established forces trying to perpetuate the centralized power infrastructure that has served and made profitable a handful of the world’s biggest power suppliers. Scheer makes some solid points here — it will be interesting to see how — and if — Khosla replies.

Before you read Scheer’s reply, I do want you do read the following comment that Khosla posted on this blog: “I love PV and am invested in PV but don’t believe it can replace 50-100 per cent of coal… we need something that can match the scale and ‘utility requirements’ of coal at the price of coal-based electricity.”

Until cheaper, reliable and large-scale storage is available, this won’t happen with solar PV. I’m surprised that Scheer didn’t address this point in his reply. I think the debate between these two is not solar thermal power versus solar PV, but rather solar PV as a majority of the world’s power versus solar PV as a restricted minority player.

N.A.’s biggest solar PV farm planned for Ontario

I have an article in today’s Toronto Star about a California startup called OptiSolar that has just received approval from the Ontario government to build a sprawling 40-megawatt solar farm in Sarnia. Hundreds of thousands of OptiSolar’s proprietary thin-film panels will be used to cover nearly 900 acres of farm and industrial lands — the equivalent of about 680 football fields (NFL football fields). The project will be build in four 10-megawatt phases and is expected to start in 2008 and finish in 2010. OptiSolar Farms Canada Inc., a subsidiary of the California company, has struck a 20-year contract with the Ontario Power Authority to sell the power from the farm into the provincial grid at 42-cents per kilowatt hour, the established rate for solar power under the province’s new standard offer program. OptiSolar said it chose Ontario for this enormous project because of the standard offer program, which is unique to North America. The Sarnia farm, when complete, is expected to be the largest PV farm in North America and one of the largest in the world, championing other projects underway in Germany and Spain.

Perhaps most interesting is that the power authority, in its 20-year power system forecast, only counted on 40 megawatts of solar power in total being added to the Ontario grid between now and 2025. We’ve already surpassed that goal after just a few months of the standard offer program being introduced, assuming of course these projects actually get built. Obviously, and I’ve pointed this out in previous columns and posts, the power authority low-balled the potential of solar power in Ontario.