Fast forward to the year 2030: Canada and the U.S., driven by energy and climate security, have invested hundreds of billions in a continent-wide low-carbon Energy Internet. Vast wind and solar farms, biogas and geothermal power plants, spread across the continent feed that grid. So do countless smart buildings, energy storage facilities and electric vehicles. Will Ontario be a net seller, or buyer, of that technology? The answer depends largely on how, and if, the Green Energy Act (GEA) rolls out. It’s the Liberals, and not the NDP or Conservatives, who are promoting the policies that will ensure Ontario is positioned to become a major manufacturer and producer of clean technology.
The Conservatives would kill the GEA. This is the economic mistake of a lifetime. Clean energy technology is a bigger opportunity today than the microchip was in 1960, or the automobile in the 1940s. Those two sectors took off with strategic government support. The Interstate Highway System and subsequent Autopact grew the automotive sector, and initial demand from the academic and military communities seeded what became Silicon Valley. Entire industries do not emerge from nowhere, and clean energy is no different. The GEA places Ontario firmly at the forefront of the single largest global market of the 21st century. Killing the GEA, as Hudak as promised, is very short-sighted.
The GEA is big business, and a good deal for taxpayers. Currently 7,400 MW of power are contracted which could power 1.9 million homes. This represents $26 billion in investment. What’s the cost to the taxpayer? The equivalent of a coffee and doughnut added to your bill every month.
To deliver on the promise of jobs, the GEA must do three things. It must engage and motivate the private sector, remove as many hurdles to clean energy projects as possible, and most importantly – provide a long-term, steady hand on the tiller. The NDP’s proposed policy does none of these.
The NDP would have Ontario Power Generation (OPG) own and operate all clean energy projects over 20 MW. That represents about 70% of all contracted projects. It’s out with the private sector, and in with the public. This brings back the days when large central government agencies had a virtual monopoly on power production. That’s not the way to build a globally competitive industry. Large, private sector players – whether it’s TransAlta or Samsung – must be at the table if we are to create an industry that can grow to compete on the global stage.
When Samsung comes to Ontario, they will not only build and operate large clean energy projects. They will establish manufacturing facilities, and – just like the Ford plants in Ontario – this will create the capacity, and the jobs that come with it – to sell across North America. Samsung, like Ford, will outsource most of the components, spurring the growth of a large supporting ecosystem of companies right across the province. That’s what the big players bring to the table, and we cut them out of the picture at our peril.
To placate wind energy opponents, the NDP have also indicated they would give back a municipal veto on energy projects. The health concerns cited by many opponents of wind energy are nonsense, as any review of the medical literature reveals. Pandering to a small, but vocal minority, would kill many projects before the shovel is in the ground.
Most importantly, what the private sector needs to see is continuity. The veto and the change to public ownership of large projects introduce the worst sort of political risk. Whether it’s entrepreneurs or the big banks, the private sector will only step up if they can be assured the rules will stay the same. By broadcasting that they will change the fundamental dynamics of the policy, the NDP’s policy will have the renewable energy industry heading for the hills.
Ontario has established a lead in ensuring that we will be a seller into the emerging, global clean energy economy. When Michael Prue, NDP MPP for Beaches and East York says “You can get [clean energy] for half if you buy it from Quebec as opposed to putting up the wind farm” he shows the NDP just don’t get how to create the New Economy jobs of the future. It’s not about the cheapest electrons today. It’s about who gets to make the clean electrons tomorrow.