September 4th, 2012
This time last year, residents in the provincial riding of Kitchener-Waterloo were exactly where they are today — headed to the polls.
Whereas last year Ontario’s party leaders debated the rising cost of electricity, smart meters and time-of-use billing, and the costs associated with the feed-in-tariff (FIT) programs offered through the Green Energy Act, in Thursday’s byelections in Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan there has been almost no mention to date of energy policy.
The energy supply issues debated last year remain unsolved. While we have a revised FIT program and efficiencies within Ontario’s electricity sector are being explored, we still don’t have answers as to how Ontario will generate clean, safe, and reliable energy in the long term. We can’t afford to ignore this issue, and as voters, we have the opportunity to ensure our candidates address the challenges our province is facing.
According to the Ontario Power Authority, as much as 80 per cent of the province’s existing power facilities will need to be refurbished or replaced over the next 20 years, leaving a gap of 30,000 megawatts between available and required capacity by 2025.
Half of today’s power plants will need to be replaced or rebuilt in the next 10 years, and over half of the transmission system in Ontario is more than 50 years old. Coal plants in Ontario are being phased out by 2014 and all of Ontario’s nuclear plants will reach the end of their operational lives in the next 20 years. This presents an expensive challenge, but also the opportunity to meet provincial greenhouse gas emission targets that aim to reduce emissions 80 per cent by 2050.
Currently, nuclear and hydro plants provide Ontario’s baseload electricity. Renewable energy sources supply additional power when available. Coal is being eliminated as an energy source because of the impacts to health and the environment. Nuclear produces virtually no greenhouse gas emissions compared with fossil fuel sources like natural gas and coal but there are concerns about safety and waste disposal, and not a single reactor in Ontario’s history has ever been built on time or on budget.
Renewable energy technologies like wind and solar offer the promise of producing electricity without greenhouse gas emissions and are quickly becoming an important component of the provincial energy mix, but challenges exist in storing the energy for use during peak hours and connecting new supply to the province’s aging electricity infrastructure.
The challenges surrounding our energy supply mix are diverse and there are conflicting views on how to overcome them.
The Ontario Green party platform consists of plans including prioritizing energy efficiency and conservation, and increasing hydro generation. The Ontario Liberal party is promising to create 50,000 new jobs in clean energy and is giving Ontarians 10 per cent off their electricity bills through the new Clean Energy Benefit. The Ontario New Democrats plan to take the harmonized sales tax (HST) off hydro and home heating bills, maintain the FIT program, and bring 10,700 megawatts of renewable energy online by 2018. The Ontario Progressive Conservative party is championing “affordable energy,” including the cancellation of the FIT program and affirming nuclear energy.
The importance of this week’s byelections to Ontario’s future can’t be ignored as it could reshape the political landscape in the province. Two ridings are battling for seats that could either return the Liberals to a majority government or bolster the opposition. While no one is campaigning on energy policy in this election, it’s important to remember that successful job creation, health care, and education all depend on a reliable and sustainable energy supply mix.
In the lead-up to last fall’s general election in Ontario, Sustainable Waterloo Region partnered with the David Suzuki Foundation to release a non-partisan expert review of the energy policies of leading political parties, entitled Ontario’s Energy Future: A Climate Change Perspective, available at www.sustainablewaterlooregion.ca/ontarioenergy.
This year, Sustainable Waterloo Region has invited each of the four leading local byelection candidates to contribute a guest blog providing highlights about their party’s energy platform and its impact on environmental and organizational sustainability.
To read the responses and find out where our candidates stand when it comes to energy and environment, please visit www.sustainablewaterlooregion.ca/blog.
For residents in the riding of Kitchener-Waterloo, make your voice heard on Thursday: vote. Our energy future hangs in the balance.
Mike Morrice is the executive director of Sustainable Waterloo Region, a not-for-profit that advances the environmental sustainability of organizations in Waterloo Region.