Tag Archives: Dalton McGuinty

Liberals re-elected in Ontario: Green Energy Act and feed-in-tariff program live on

Happy to report that the re-election of the Ontario Liberal government last night means the province’s landmark Green Energy Act, which gave birth to the continent’s first comprehensive Euro-style feed-in-tariff program, has survived its first major challenge. The opposition Progressive Conservative party vowed to scrap the FIT program if elected and neuter the green energy legislation that has brought billions of dollars of investment to Ontario, thousands of jobs, and a new economic pathway for a province that needs to reinvent itself for the 21st century.

The election outcome means the admittedly far-from-perfect FIT will remain and the legislation protected, at least for a few years — enough time for these ambitious initiatives to prove their worth to Ontarians. In many ways, the fact Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals were left 1 seat short of a majority government is a good thing, as it forces the government to consider and take seriously some legitimate concerns with how the FIT has rolled out and the lack of attention paid to energy conservation initiatives. The New Democratic Party of Ontario, which won 17 seats, are generally supportive of both the GEA and the FIT, but the fact they hold the balance of power could — and should — nudge the Liberal government to improve its approach.

1. The NDP has been rightly critical of the Liberals for their lack of attention to energy conservation programs, so perhaps now they can light a fire under the Liberals, which have done some important things on conservation but recently have only paid lip-service to it, despite the fact it’s the best and most permanent way — from both a cost and environmental perspective — to create jobs and reduce the province’s dependence on fossil fuels.

2. Expect the NDP to also force the government’s hand on the nuclear file — specifically plans to build two new reactors at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. Can we afford it? Does it make sense? Would the money be better spent on deep energy conservation efforts and programs to help low-income Ontarians deal with the energy transition taking place in this province?

3. The NDP’s idea of putting all the power back in the hands of a re-constituted Ontario Hydro is flawed beyond belief, but certainly one can envision a new role for Ontario Power Generation. Why not let OPG develop renewables such as wind, particularly in the far north, in a way that still respects the need for independent power developers and the partly competitive market we currently have? It won’t be easy, but certainly the question should be asked. Letting OPG put some flesh in the game could also change the dialogue with the Power Workers’ Union, which has bashed the McGuinty green energy plan partly — if not mostly — because it threatens the jobs of its unionized workers at coal and nuclear plants.

4. I would hope the Liberals, backed by the NDP, also put pressure on Hydro One, which many believe has purposely dragged its feet when it comes to upgrading transmission and distribution to accommodate green energy projects, in hopes the PCs would win the election last night. Sorry folks — your wish didn’t come true. Time to deliver on what your shareholder has asked you to do. And if Hydro One can’t do it, perhaps the government should consider the idea of permitting merchant lines in Ontario, allowing private-sector transmission developers to enter the game to fill a vacuum left behind by our public utility.

5. Finally, the NDP did seem to emphasize a need to listen to the concerns of municipalities more closely. The Liberals were too dismissive of local concerns when the GEA and FIT were launched, declaring they would have no tolerance for NIMBYism. Well, obviously that wasn’t an issue when it came to natural gas power plant protests, so the Libs have exposed themselves as hypocritical on this file. Some of those protesting wind farms in rural Ontario are extreme, and they will never be pleased. But many have more legitimate and addressable concerns that need to be heard and, when possible and reasonable, acted on. The government needs to show more goodwill in this area, otherwise it will never get the rural buy-in that it desperately needs for Ontario’s green-energy future to remain bright.

Anyway, these are just some of my initial thoughts. Please consider this an open thread. I’m interested in hearing other views out there.

 

Tsk, tsk: Globe and Mail runs another misleading Wente column on green energy, electric vehicles

Okay, we all know Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente hates green energy, electric vehicles or any non-market efforts, really, to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. We know, even though she never discloses it (but should), that she’s on the board of directors of Energy Probe, a Canadian libertarian think tank that aggressively spreads its belief that climate change is a hoax and green energy such as wind and solar is a waste of time and resources. We also know that Wente likes to be a contrarian because it pumps up her profile. So I wasn’t so shocked when I read yet another column from her bashing the McGuinty government’s green energy policies, and in doing so, cherry picking the facts (or simply spinning them) to mislead her readers. What gets me, however, is how the editors at the Globe and Mail would let it into the paper, as is, and with the headline it was given.

BTW: Here’s my response to her last major assault on green energy back in April 2010.

Here’s my response to Wente’s most recent anti-green column, starting with the Globe’s headline: “Message to McGuinty: Most green-job schemes have been miserable failures.”

I can’t believe the headline writer and overseeing editor would allow the word “most” to make it into that headline. Wente doesn’t back up the “most” claim with any statistics, let alone credible ones. And the few examples she cites are small, based on someone else’s reporting (such as one problematic report in the New York Times) and/or come without any context.

Now, here’s Wente’s opening two paragraphs:

Dalton McGuinty has hit the campaign trail, and he’s paving it green. Earlier this month he announced that Ontario will pump $80-million into building charging stations for electric cars. “They are peppy, they are quiet, and the thing that I like best as a father, and ultimately a grandfather, I would hope, is that they’re clean,” he said. By 2020, he hopes, one out of 20 cars in Ontario will be electrically powered.

Meantime, Costco, the giant retailer, has pulled the plug on its electric car-charging stations, which it had installed in its California parking lots. The reason is that nobody uses them. Even China – which promised it would leapfrog the world in electric-car development – is backing off.

First, Costco is removing chargers that were installed back when GM introduced its EV1 electric vehicle to the market in the 1990s, before the cars were crushed and shredded. Costco says the chargers aren’t used, but that’s largely because electric vehicles only began hitting the market this year and the chargers that are in place are outdated (i.e. based on old standards) or simply stopped working, as you’ll read further down in this Daily Mail story.  Second, Costco is just one company seemingly going against the grain at a time when dozens of others, including Best Buy, IKEA, Walgreens and Lowe’s, are adding them. Personally, I don’t think retail stores are ideal places for EV charging systems, but the fact that so many big brand operations are beginning to test them and deploy them is a good sign. For Wente to cite the Costco decision as proof that EV charging systems, and thus electric vehicles, are being abandoned is quite the stretch. Also completely wrong is her unsupported comment that the Chinese are “backing off.” How she came to this conclusion is beyond me, but perhaps she didn’t read China’s 12th five-year plan. By 2015 China plans to have 4,000 charging stations and growth is expected to increase rapidly from there with plans to invest nearly $5 billion in charging infrastructure by 2020, at which point the country will have at least 10,000 public state-run charging locations, not including the tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of private home and business charging stations that are expected to emerge. That doesn’t sound like backing off.

Indeed, research firm Pike Research projected last week that there will be 7.7 million charging stations for EVs located in homes, workplaces and public spaces worldwide by 2017, with about 1.5 million of them located in the United States. So much for backing off. I’ll admit that’s an ambitious prediction, but the trend is clear — yet Wente cites a decision by Costco to remove obsolete charging systems as proof that the market for EVs and their associated charging infrastructure is fading.

The rest of the world has begun to discover that the green dream is a mirage. Across the U.S., federal, state and city governments have poured zillions into green schemes. Most have been miserable failures.

The city of Seattle, for example, got $20-million from the U.S. Department of Energy to retrofit houses and make them more energy efficient. The money was supposed to create 2,000 jobs and retrofit at least 2,000 homes. But by this month, only three homes had been retrofitted and only 14 jobs created. Even the greens admit the program is a total flop.

There’s that “most” word again, as in “most have been miserable failures.” She’s referring both generally to green energy initiatives spearheaded by government and specifically to a small $20-million household retrofit program in Seattle that didn’t deliver promised results. Forget that maybe, just maybe this specific program was mismanaged. So what? I mean, programs — private or public — get mismanaged and don’t produce results all the time. Hey, the market even screws up, too. You know, like how mismanagement by U.S. and European banks led to a worldwide financial crisis? No mention of that, of course. Also no mention of how successful the Canadian federal government’s EcoEnergy home retrofit program was before it was cancelled in 2010. In all, Ottawa committed $750 million to a program that encouraged Canadians to spend $4 billion of their own money. In doing so, those Canadians will save an average of $340 million a year every year on their energy bills — all of it money that will be reinvested in the Canadian economy each year. Also, the $4 billion spent by homeowners generated $250 million in GST revenue for the government. All of this also created thousands of jobs, contributing even more tax revenue to Ottawa. How can that be categorized as a miserable failure? It can’t, which is why Wente didn’t mention it — it didn’t fit with her message or her goal, which is to poke holes in the McGuinty government’s green energy and electric vehicle strategy and give momentum to the opposition PC party as a provincial election approaches.

In Massachusetts, the state government poured $58-million into a company called Evergreen Solar Inc. But Evergreen couldn’t compete with cheaper solar panels made in China. In March it closed its factory and laid off 800 people, and this month it declared bankruptcy. In Salinas, Calif., a company called Green Vehicles received a couple of million dollars in government grants to develop an electric car for freeways. It too went under. The mayor says the city will think twice before investing in other startups, regardless of how many jobs they’re supposed to create.

Yes, yes, companies go bankrupt, struggle, lay off people, often because they can’t compete with China or are simply poorly run. These companies are everywhere — biotech, information technology, Internet, automotive, etc., and more so with the U.S. economy continuing to struggle. So Wente cites a company that got lots of U.S. government money but simply couldn’t hit the home run it expected. Is that our standard now? That every bit of public investment MUST result in success? If that’s the case, hell — better shut off the tap that flows to the automotive, forestry and oil and gas sectors, eh? Here’s the thing: the U.S. is actually doing okay competing against the Chinese in solar. It’s exporting more solar product than it’s importing, contrary to popular belief.

Green projects, it turns out, don’t create many jobs, and those jobs are costly. Barack Obama recently visited a plant in Michigan to tout its investment in new battery technology. The plant got grants of $300-million, and expects to create 150 new jobs. That works out to $2-million a job. Then there’s SolFocus, a company in San Jose, Calif., that produces solar panels. The mayor called it an “enormously important” development for the city’s economy,” The New York Times reported. But the company assembles its solar panels in China, and its new headquarters employs just 90 people.

During his 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama promised to create five million green jobs over the next decade. But as The New York Times reported last week, “federal and state efforts to stimulate creation of green jobs have largely failed.”

At this point Wente hasn’t established that green projects don’t create jobs, but she goes ahead and makes this statement anyway, giving only a tiny snapshop of job creation by mentioning two more ventures — one an electric vehicle battery maker and the other a maker of solar panels. She talks about how one government investment in a battery maker worked out to $2-million a job, though she doesn’t talk about future job growth at that company that was seeded by this government money — she only talks about the situation as it stands today so early in the birth of this new market. And this is where Wente goes off tracks, referring to a recent New York Times report that was clearly the inspiration for her column in the first place. That is, she waited for a juicy story in a more left-leaning U.S. newspaper like the Times and used it as a way to legitimize her own biases on the green energy topic. After all, it’s juicy to quote the Times saying “federal and state efforts to stimulate creation of green jobs have largely failed.”

But the Times article was also a failure of journalism. As Joe Romm points out at Climate Progress, isn’t it kind of strange to declare a program a failure about two or three years into a 10-year mandate? As Romm writes, “Imagine if, in 1963, two years after JFK’s famous speech to Congress, the New York Times had run a story, ‘Space program fails to live up to promise.'” Let’s keep in mind as well that the space program wouldn’t have gone far either if, during that time, a U.S. Congress filled with anti-science, anti-government Tea Partiers prevented the flow of money into Kennedy’s vision. Obama’s goal is achievable but not when such programs are consistently under attack by state and federal legislators who have only one objective: to defeat and humiliate the U.S. president. This is Wente’s objective with respect to McGuinty, who is also facing resistance but has actually delivered so much more: 20,000-plus green jobs, and counting. Is that a failure? Wente mentions that job count, but she doesn’t directly call it a failure, preferring instead to breeze over results in Ontario and focus on negative outcomes in the U.S. market.

Maybe he should take a look at Spain, which also set out to become the solar-power capital of the world. Everything went fine, so long as the subsidies kept flowing. But when the world economy went south, the Spanish government couldn’t afford them any more and pulled the plug. Bye, bye solar, and bye, bye jobs. By one reckoning, Spain spent half a million euros for each green job it created.

The moral of the story is as clear as a row of giant wind turbines on the horizon. Governments that invest in risky, expensive and unproven technologies will probably lose big. The only way they are able to lure private investment is with generous subsidies and long-term contracts. And even then, the failure rate is high. Ontario has already attracted its share of “suitcase” companies that are here so long as the money flows, and not a moment longer. And when they go belly-up, guess who’s stuck with the bills?

It’s predictable that Wente again trots out the Spanish example, which she also used in her wind-bashing column a year earlier. It’s the only example she can really offer up, largely because Spain’s solar market did in fact go through troubles and it is one cautionary tale that’s worth learning from. However, Spain is not representative of the market and its health. Wente neglects to mention countries that are thriving, how quickly solar costs are falling, how worldwide investment in solar continues to grow at a healthy pace, and how Ontario solar manufacturers are saying they can deal with a 30 per cent reduction in the feed-in-tariff rate as part of a plan to eventually eliminate incentives. No question Ontario could have done a better job executing its green-energy programs, and while there may be the occasional dud along the way, what this province is doing is investing in a future that Wente apparently can’t see or appreciate, or maybe doesn’t want.

By the way, to call solar and wind and electric vehicles “unproven” technology is, well, wrong. This stuff works, and it works well. It’s no less proven than the iPhone or BlackBerry Wente carries on her hip. Is it risky? Yes, because the deck is stacked against it and folks like Wente don’t make it any easier. But risk is also a matter of perception. I mean, drilling deep in the Gulf of Mexico or North Sea is risky, and so is investing in the oil sands, and so is sending people deep underground to mine for coal.

Anyway, none of this is going to change Wente’s mind. But I do expect better journalism from her, at least on this issue. And I do expect the editors of the Globe and Mail to challenge unsubstantiated claims, even if they come from columnists.

The incentives are there, the signals have been sent: Where are the Ontario manufacturers of plug-in vehicles and technologies?

UPDATE: The “comprehensive study” referred to below was, as suspected, never done. Here is a response from the Ministry of Transportation on the matter: “The study was not completed as originally intended. Subsequent to the press release that is being referred to, MTO conducted research and analysis to determine options the Ontario government could take to support consumer adoption of electric vehicles. This included identifying types of electric vehicles major OEMs were producing and when these vehicles were expected to enter the Ontario market. In addition, a broad scan was undertaken to determine what other jurisdictions are doing to support the introduction of electric vehicles. A cross ministerial working group on EVs was set up to identify the barriers and opportunities to the introduction of electric passenger vehicles in the province. Elements of this research will be released as a public education document to inform Ontarians about this newly emerging transportation technology. This document is expected to be available on the ministry’s Website in the very near future” — i.e. more than two years after the comprehensive study originally envisioned, this “newly emerging” technology isn’t as new as it once was.

On Thursday, January 15, 2009, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty walked in front of a podium at the Toronto Convention Centre and signaled to the world that the province was a good place to invest in electric-vehicle manufacturing and infrastructure. “One of the most important things we can do is demonstrate we are truly an electric-car friendly jurisdiction,” McGuinty said to a scrum of reporters, outnumbered only by the black-suited government bureaucrats and policy wonks trying to “manage” the importance of the event. What McGuinty announced was a partnership with Better Place, the California company led by Shai Agassi that’s trying to establish electric-vehicle charging and battery-swapping infrastructure around the world. There were no investments from either side. Rather, Better Place said it would establish an office in Toronto and serve to educate the public about electric vehicles while also demonstrating its charging technology (a commitment the company, to its credit, fulfilled with this March 2011 announcement).

“The province has committed to conducting a comprehensive study, which will look at ways to speed up the introduction and adoption of electric vehicles. This study is scheduled for release in May 2009,” according to a Better Place press release issued on the day. Personally, I don’t remember having ever seen that comprehensive study, nor do I know if it was ever done (am currently checking on this).

Better Place continued, “This announcement maintains the province’s traditional strength in automotive production while incorporating the forward thinking technology of battery operated vehicles. Embracing this technology in its early stages will provide the province with the stimulus needed for enhanced job creation and economic growth.” Indeed, the province’s own press release stated,”Expanding the use of electric vehicles by consumers and government will help create and sustain jobs in the auto sector and put Ontario at the forefront of the new, green economy in North America.”

McGuinty, at the press conference, specifically said: “It’s going to make it more attractive to build those very cars right here in our province.”

To strengthen the signal sent to the market — that is, the message that Ontario is serious about electric vehicles — McGuinty also announced the province would offer rebates of between $4,000 and $10,000 (among the highest rebates in the world) for plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles purchased after July 1, 2010. It would also issue green vehicle license plates that would allow drivers to use high occupancy lanes and gain access to public charging facilities and parking at Ontario government and GO Transit lots.

The vision was sound. But two and a half years later, what has all this signalling and messaging and “incentivizing” brought to the province? Not a heck of a lot. Not only is there not a single original equipment manufacturer in the auto sector making (or planning to make) a plug-in vehicle in this province, Ontario car buyers have to wait a year or more before they can purchase plug-in vehicle models that are available in the United States, and they have to pay several thousands of dollars more at a time when the Canadian dollars is worth more than the U.S. greenback. There’s no manufacturing of electric-vehicle charging systems and related infrastructure being established within our borders. There’s no indication that homegrown Magna, which is making and supplying the electric drivetrain for Ford’s upcoming Focus BEV, is doing the manufacturing in Ontario. There’s no hint of any foreign, including Chinese, manufacturers planning to set up operations in Ontario. We’re not even making conventional hybrid-electric vehicles in this province.

There is one battery maker that I know of, Mississauga-based Electrovaya, that is producing battery packs for two Chrysler demonstration plug-in models (a pickup and a minivan), but Electrovaya was here before McGuinty’s 2009 announcement and, if this little company does end up getting volume orders, there’s no sign yet that it will do such manufacturing in Ontario. If there is something I’m missing here, please let me know.

The Ontario Smart Grid Forum — a group representing members of Ontario’s utility sector, industry associations, public agencies and universities — recommended in a February 2009 report that:

A Task Force, led by the Ministry of Economic Development and involving other relevant Ministries, should be created consisting of representatives from the auto sector (vehicle manufacturers and suppliers) electricity sector (OEB, IESO, OPA, distributors and generators) and universities to develop a comprehensive plan for enabling plug-in electric vehicles in Ontario. The plan would address policy, financial, and electricity system impacts of substantial electric vehicle penetration and identify what is required to ensure that vehicles can be charged as they develop. The Task Force should link to the ongoing collaborative work by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and standards development organizations to develop electric vehicles standards.

Never happened. Neither has the government released an economic development roadmap related to electric vehicles and technologies.

From what I gather, none of the billions of dollars in bailout money that went to the Canadian operations of major U.S. automakers during the economic meltdown were conditional on these companies establishing a plug-in vehicle/technology manufacturing footprint in Ontario, nor have any rewards since then. Just today, it was announced that the federal and Ontario governments would be supplying up to $140 million in loans and grants to Toyota to upgrade its manufacturing operations in Cambridge and Woodstock. Again, no mention of Toyota’s commitment or intention of building capacity for next-generation vehicle technologies in Ontario.

At this point in time, it appears the McGuinty government’s 30-month-old “signal” to the auto sector as an attempt to attract investment in next-generation electric vehicle technology/infrastructure has been a dismal failure. This next-generation manufacturing is instead being created in Michigan and other U.S. jurisdiction. Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development and Trade has failed to execute on the promise of “creating and sustaining jobs” in this emerging and increasingly strategic part of the North American transportation market.

What gives? Can’t say, but wouldn’t it be nice if the Libs, after three years of talk, actually pulled a rabbit out of the hat and delivered on that earlier promise? Perhaps there will be a pre-election surprise, but don’t count on it.

Recessions: the most effective way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions

Ontario Power Generation released its second-quarter earnings on Friday and, little surprise, the province’s largest power generator saw its output drop by 19 per cent compared to a year earlier. A similar plunge was seen in the first quarter. Some of this drop has to do with conservation, good weather, and increased supply from private supplier of wind and gas-fired generation, but a big chunk has to do with the recession and its impact on a manufacturing-heavy province like Ontario.

But there is a silver lining. Ontario Power Generation saw its fossil-fuel generation, mostly coal, fall by a whopping two-thirds. It means that during the second quarter 91 per cent of electricity generated by OPG was free of greenhouse gases and other smog-causing emissions, thanks to our hydroelectric and nuclear fleet.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could hold the line on emissions as the economy recovers? Continue reading Recessions: the most effective way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions

Ontario signals to automakers, and consumers, that it’s serious about electric cars

When Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty revealed in January that the province was partnering with Better Place, it wasn’t clear whether it was simply a PR stunt or if the government was serious about bringing electric cars in Ontario through the appropriate investments and incentives. That’s because the province put no flesh in the game.

Now, it appears, McGuinty is truly serious. He announced today the goal of having one out of every 20 vehicles driven (not just sold) in Ontario be a plug-in hybrid or pure electric vehicle by 2020. To get there, the province will offer rebates of between $4,000 and $10,000 for plug-in vehicles purchased after July 1, 2010. Buyers of such vehicles would also get green vehicle licence plates allowing the vehicles to be driven on High Occupancy Vehicle (carpool) lanes and providing access to public charging facilities and parking at Ontario government and Go Transit parking lots. The government itself plans to add 500 electric vehicles to its own fleet.

These are the kinds of moves that signal to automakers that Ontario is a place to focus on as a market for both sales and investment. By aiming to have hundreds of thousands of plug-in vehicles driving on Ontario roads by 2020, and by providing generous incentives to help get us there, manufacturers will be more inclined to set up shop in the province.

I should add that Ontario, unlike Michigan, will by 2020 have an electricity system that’s 90 per cent emission-free. Michigan will be closer to 30 per cent. This means the cars being produced in Ontario could be designed as green and manufactured as green.

Prediction: I expect Chinese car manufacturers to rush into Ontario.