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.