The Green Energy Act, Part 1

It’s no secret that Germany is the envy of climate change activists worldwide for its progressive energy policies; what may be a secret to you is what, exactly, those progressive energy policies are.

It’s simple: their Renewable Energy Sources Act makes it easy for individuals, communities and corporations to get approvals to build green energy projects; makes it easy for them to connect to the grid; requires grid operators to buy their energy; and mandates electricity rates that make building those projects profitable.*

Unsurprisingly, Canadian green energy advocates have been working to pass Green Energy Acts of our own; so far, Ontario is in the lead with an existing Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program (RESOP) that sets profitable prices for renewable energy proejcts ($0.11/kwh for wind energy, $0.42/kwh for solar). Now Ontario is proposing a provincial Green Energy Act based on the input of organizations such as the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association that incorporates many features of the German legislation, not only to address smog and climate change but also to stimulate an alternative to the fast-disappearing manufacturing economy. What exactly the legislation looks like is unknown; we can see what advocacy organizations have proposed, and newspapers have been reporting on the imminent introduction of a new Act, but what’s in and what’s out and what will eventually pass is still something of a mystery.

But I can tell you one thing: it has little in common with this portrayal in the Toronto Star.

He’s [McGuinty] counting on the act, of which few details have been released,
to help create 50,000 jobs over the next three years and boost the
amount of renewable energy feeding into the electricity grid to fight
climate change.

McGuinty wouldn’t say exactly how concerns will
be overridden, but his office noted the bill will “address local bylaws
and regulations that are used to delay or stop proposed renewable
energy projects.”

He stressed that, when it comes to safety and
environmental standards for green projects, “we’re not talking about
compromising those one iota.”

The article was skimpy on specifics, but I’m guessing that the “local bylaws and regulations” he refers to are the motions and resolutions passed by town and city councils prohibiting wind energy development within their boundaries, usually due to pressure from local wind-energy groups, often after they’ve presented their councils with error-ridden “reports” on wind energy. (For examples of such reports, see the article I published recently on Rabble.) Wind energy projects in the province of Ontario have been completely shut down by activists working on the basis of misinformation and biased statistics. That needs to be stopped. Yes, local communities should be involved in the planning process for these projects; no, they should not be able to block them by panicking people with ridiculous claims about increasing greenhouse gas emissions or flocks of birds falling from the sky.

Toronto Hydro is proposing to put up to 60 wind turbines in shallow
water on a natural reef two to four kilometres offshore, from Leslie
St. to Ajax, to create up to 200 megawatts of electricity. One megawatt
is enough to power 300 homes.

This is simply not true. Toronto Hydro is planning to install an anemometer, or wind-measuring device, in Lake Ontario for two years to see whether or not a wind farm of up to sixty turbines is justified in that location.

“If it’s such a great idea, why not do an environmental assessment
and prove there are no health risks?” said an angry Laforet. “Why do we
need to be bludgeoned by legislation if the facts are on their (the
government’s) side?”

Laforet says he is concerned about “wind
turbine syndrome,” the term some use to describe the symptoms of people
who say they have been sickened by the noise.

“Wind energy groups
say it doesn’t exist because there are no reports in scientific
journals,” he said. “It’s why the health effects must be researched.”

This, too, bears little relation to reality. All wind energy projects over 2 KW are required to have an environmental screening completed, as I wrote before. No one is being “bludgeoned” by legislation. Wind Turbine Syndrome is a fancy and scary-sounding name given to a condition that may or may not exist. There are reports in scientific journals; but they don’t support Wind Turbine Syndrome. The health effects are being researched, but so far the studies do not support widespread effects of wind turbine noise on humans, as I also wrote about recently.

You’ll notice, however, that the article mentions none of this.

“He-said/she-said” reporting does no one any favours. How is the public supposed to measure the pros and cons of these projects if the newspapers don’t fact-check the stories given to them by proponents and opponents and report on the science behind them as well? If you didn’t have any specific expertise on environmental issues and you read this article, you would probably come away from it quite scared about the scourge of wind energy and the Green Energy Act. That’s not responsible reporting.


*This last point is a favourite target of anti-sustainable energy groups, who argue that sustainble energy must not be economically viable if it requires this kind of price support. A) Fossil-fuel generation receives a mountain of subsidies, everything from exploration, mining, transporting and, yes, generation, is heavily subsidized by government. The price you currently pay for coal- or natural-gas-fired generation is much cheaper than it would be if corporations had to do all their work by themselves. B) Many of the costs of fossil-fuel generation have been externalized. For example, the Ontario Medical Association believes that around 9,500 people died prematurely last year in the province of Ontario from poor air quality–some of that resulting from our electricity generation–yet you don’t pay for that on your power bill, you pay for that through your health insurance taxes. I can’t remember what the precise dollar figure was for the estimated cost of all that increased mortality–plus the sick days and lost productivity of people who don’t die but who take time off work, go to the hospital, etc.–but it was in the billions. Every year. The same goes for the tremendous anticipated costs of global climate change, which will make everything from health care to infrastructure more expensive. (For instance, roads will need to be built to tougher specifications to handle the changes in temperatures). Again, none of that is included on your electricity bill. “Cheap” fossil-fuel electricity is in fact tremendously expensive. There’s just no pricing mechanism for including that on your household electricity bill.

It’s more accurate to say that the price supports level the playing field, giving green energy a fighting chance to establish itself in a market dominated by a wealthy, heavily subsidized, completely externalized and already entrenched status quo.

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