Who knew? World’s largest solar PV plant is now in Ontario

In the realm of solar, you’d kind of expect the title of “largest” to go to sunny and hot places like, say, California or Arizona or Nevada, or some sunny place in Europe or the Middle East somewhere. Nope — that title goes to Ontario, at least for today. First Solar announced today that it has completed the final phases of its Sarnia solar power plant and that the facility now ranks as the largest solar PV plant in the world. The plant is owned by gas and pipeline giant Enbridge Inc. — you know, the guys who had the big oil spill in Michigan. The press release says it is an 80-megawatt plant, but over at PRResources.com it ranks the project first at 97 megawatts. Not sure what the deal is there. But even at 80 megawatts it’s still 33 per cent larger than the second-largest plant, which is in Olmedilla, Spain. The next largest in Canada, ranking 24th worldwide, is the 23.4 megawatt facility in Arnprior, Ontario.

I remember it was just a few years ago when it was a big deal to see 1 megawatt of solar installed across ALL of Ontario, let alone single projects.

Obama to throw full weight of presidency behind clean energy policy in 2011: Rolling Stone interview

I highly encourage you to read this insightful Rolling Stone interview with President Obama, who covers off a range of topics including energy policy. The interviewer asked two questions related to energy. In a nutshell, Obama says he’s disappointed things haven’t moved faster but plans to throw the full weight of his presidency behind energy policy in 2011. Questions excerpted below:

Question: James Hansen, the NASA scientist who is perhaps the most respected authority on global warming, says that climate change is the predominant moral issue of the 21st century, comparable to slavery faced by Lincoln and the response to Nazism faced by Churchill. Do you agree with that statement?

Obama:  What I would agree with is that climate change has the potential to have devastating effects on people around the globe, and we’ve got to do something about it. In order to do something about it, we’re going to have to mobilize domestically, and we’re going to have to mobilize internationally.

During the past two years, we’ve not made as much progress as I wanted to make when I was sworn into office. It is very hard to make progress on these issues in the midst of a huge economic crisis, because the natural inclination around the world is to say, “You know what? That may be a huge problem, but right now what’s a really big problem is 10 percent unemployment,” or “What’s a really big problem is that our businesses can’t get loans.” That diverted attention from what I consider to be an urgent priority. The House of Representatives made an attempt to deal with the issue in a serious way. It wasn’t perfect, but it was serious. We could not get 60 votes for a comparable approach in the Senate.

One of my top priorities next year is to have an energy policy that begins to address all facets of our overreliance on fossil fuels. We may end up having to do it in chunks, as opposed to some sort of comprehensive omnibus legislation. But we’re going to stay on this because it is good for our economy, it’s good for our national security, and, ultimately, it’s good for our environment.

Understand, though, that even in the absence of legislation, we took steps over the past two years that have made a significant difference. I will give you one example, and this is an example where sometimes I think the progressive community just pockets whatever we do, takes it for granted, and then asks, “Well, why didn’t you get this done?”

We instituted the first increase in fuel-efficiency standards in this country in 30 years. It used to be that California would have some very rigorous rule, and then other states would have much weaker ones. Now we’ve got one rule. Not only that, it used to be that trucks weren’t covered, and there were all kinds of loopholes — that’s how SUVs were out there getting eight miles a gallon. Now everybody’s regulated — not only cars, but trucks. We did this with the agreement of the auto industry, which had never agreed to it before, we did it with the auto workers, who had never agreed to it before. We are taking the equivalent of millions of cars off the road, when it comes to the amount of greenhouse gases that are produced.

Is it enough? Absolutely not. The progress that we’re making on renewable energy, the progress that we’re making on retrofitting buildings and making sure that we are reducing electricity use — all those things, cumulatively, if we stay on it over the next several years, will allow us to meet the target that I set, which would be around a 17 percent reduction in our greenhouse gases.

But we’re going to have to do a lot more than that. When I talk to [Energy Secretary] Steven Chu, who, by the way, was an unsung hero in the Gulf oil spill — this guy went down and helped design the way to plug that hole with BP engineers — nobody’s a bigger champion for the cause of reducing climate change than he is. When I ask him how we are going to solve this problem internationally, what he’ll tell you is that we can get about a third of this done through efficiencies and existing technologies, we can get an additional chunk through some sort of pricing in carbon, but ultimately we’re going to need some technological breakthroughs. So the investments we’re making in research and development around clean energy are also going to be important if we’re going to be able to get all the way there. Am I satisfied with what we’ve gotten done? Absolutely not.

Question: Do you see a point at which you’re going to throw the whole weight of the presidency behind this, like you did on health care or financial reform?

Obama: Yes. Not only can I foresee it, but I am committed to making sure that we get an energy policy that makes sense for the country and that helps us grow at the same time as it deals with climate change in a serious way. I am just as committed to getting immigration reform done.

I’ve been here two years, guys. And one of the things that I just try to remember is that if we have accomplished 70 percent of what we committed to in the campaign, historic legislation, and we’ve got 30 percent of it undone — well, that’s what the next two years is for, or maybe the next six.

John Allemang at Globe and Mail also celebrates a Canada that benefits from the suffering of others

Obviously Globe and Mail feature writer John Allemang was trying to have fun with this piece — though I’m not sure anyone found it funny — and intended to be controversial. He’s not a climate-change denier, though he could be a denier of human-caused climate change — it’s unclear. What is clear is that he’s joining a club of navel-gazing Canadians who are climate-change embracers, a group of folks who see (quite inaccurately, I should say) their own position in the world and their own fortune rising at the expense of others. Climate change will make Canada warmer, they say. It will open up economic opportunities, including oil and gas exploration and tourism in the north. As Hollywood dries up and burns the movie industry will relocate to Vancouver and Toronto. Disney has opened polar bear parks in the north. Ontario’s wine industry is thriving. We’re getting rich by selling water to the thirsty U.S. southwest. What’s there to complain about?

” Canada in 2050 isn’t utopia – not yet, though we’re working on it. With that said, I think you’d find it  pretty incredible,” he writes. “There are no votes in despair, no profits in pessimism. The future, sad to report, turns out to be happy-faced. And remember what they say, or what they will say once you start coming to terms with your good luck: The 21st century belongs to Canada.”

Right. Thanks for the pep talk, John. Now can we get back to reality?

I took issue with this approach when the Sun’s Lorrie Goldstein wrote a column that reviewed, with a kind of glee, the conclusions of a new book by UCLA professor Laurence Smith. You can read my responses to Goldstein’s column here. He mentioned the same things: how climate change will open up the north and its abundance of natural resources, including oil and minerals; how Canada’s oil resources will lead the world; how the population will explode; how Canada’s major cities will become world power capitals; how we can get rich by selling our fresh water; how crops will likely flourish; and how tourism will open up in the north.

This rosy outlook painted by Allemang and Goldstein, via his “review” of a press release of Smith’s book The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization’s Northern Future, conveniently ignores the major problems we’ll experience. Disease and sudden infestation of our crops and forests, which will not have enough time to adapt; a flood of climate refugees that will collapse our already overstressed social and healthcare system; rising pollution that will make our “fresh” water less fresh; forest fires like we saw in Russia this summer… and the list goes on. They also seem to praise rapid population growth as a good thing, and put Canada’s own wealth ahead of its moral obligations to the rest of the world. They also ignore that the situation, while potentially lucrative for a select group in 2050, isn’t sustainable. If we just continue on a path of business-as-usual any benefits experienced by Canada over the coming decades will disappear just as fast as they came. Is it really sustainable to believe, like that freakyTwilight Zone expisode, that we can just keep heading north to avoid all the bad stuff? Eventually, folks, we run out of north. Sounds like fun, eh? Something to celebrate, eh? Another note: we live on an interdependent planet in an era of hyperglobalization. When dominoes fall they all fall. See recent global recession. See Jared Diamond’s Collapse. And do we believe we can adapt without any pain, regardless of where we are on the planet, in just a few decades? Get real.

I’m all for adaptation, because I know that regardless of what actions we take we’ve already passed a point of no return and temperatures will rise. The question is by how much, and what can we do from now until then to minimize that rise. So yes, let’s adapt, but not at the expense of mitigation. Allemang and Goldstein seem to think that mitigation is pointless: bring on climate change! That’s very easy to say from a newsroom armchair.

I had an e-mail exchange with Goldstein after my earlier post. He didn’t like my treatment of his column because I made it seem like it represented his own conclusions, when in fact what he was doing was reviewing a book and laying out the conclusions of a respected climate-change expert from UCLA. “Logically, you should have been much more concerned that these are the views of a credible Arctic scientist, and climate change expert, who is also concerned about the negative impacts of climate change,” Goldstein wrote me.

He was right — I was sloppy in that earlier blog post and made the necessary changes to clarify it. What I also did was contact Prof. Smith to get his thoughts on some of the columns and stories being written in Canada that celebrate the benefits climate change will bring the north, and which use his book as the basis for the celebration. Here’s what Smith wrote back:

The handful of ‘benefits’ accrued by a small fraction of the world will be overwhelmingly exceeded by negative impacts in the rest of the world. I’m already alarmed by the angle being seized by some Canadian papers, i.e. “great! this is all good for Canada!” I hope this perception fades quickly next week, when the book comes out and people actually read it.  I argue strongly against coal development globally, and Alberta’s tar sands specifically, for example. The book maintains a neutral/scientific tone throughout and I always point out both sides of an issue, but end it with a moral argument about the role of societal choice… it is my sincerest hope that people get the message and realize the goal of this book is to avert it biggest conclusions, not to justify them. Far from encouraging “northern development,” it is my sincere hope that this book will challenge people to think harder about the long term negative impacts of our current trajectories, and motivate real action to avert many of the terrible outcomes it projects.

So yes, I guess the glasses are rose-coloured when you’re looking only at the roses. Turn your head slightly to the left or right and, well, those roses begin to wilt.

Ontario to close four more coal-fired power units

On Friday we’ll see four more coal-fired units totalling 2,000 megawatts closed in Ontario, part of the government’s commitment to phase out coal by 2014. Two 500 MW units at Lambton station and two 500 MW units at Nanticoke will be shut down ahead of an earlier schedule because of a combination of factors: lower electricity demand, increased natural gas capacity and a rise of wind, and to a lesser extent, solar power. Another plant, the smaller Atikokan station, will be converted to burning biomass.

Clean Break column moves to Fridays in the Toronto Star

Hey folks, this is just a public service announcement. After 10 years of having my weekly column appear on Mondays — five of those years being my Clean Break column — the Toronto Star has decided to move my column to Fridays. Nothing else will change. The move is part of a decision to focus the Monday business section on personal finance. I’m looking forward to writing for Fridays because it will allow me to play off the news. As usual, I’ll provide links to my columns on this blog so if you miss the paper you can still read them here.