I was offered an all expenses-paid trip to Germany in 2009 to tour the world’s leading green energy achievements. The tour included an ethanol plant with corn supplied by local farmers and a town powered by two methane digesters. The technological advances appeared endless. Germany seemed years ahead of us.
No more. Eastern Ontario now has its wind turbines —most notably the 86 on Wolfe Island – two ethanol plants – at Johnstown and Havelock – and about 10 dairy farms with methane digesters. New installations of solar panels are popping up across the countryside each month. It’s truly amazing what a few years can do. But the bottom line in both countries is still the same and it bites. Solar and wind power are not viable without a subsidy. The Germans are green energy leaders but cut off the government handout and solar panel and wind turbine manufacturing would grind to a halt. Solar panels are the least expensive way to get into the green energy game but, as green as we want to be, few people will erect a solar panel if it doesn’t pay for itself.
The Ontario feed-in tariff program, launched in late 2009, changed everything. It offered seductive guaranteed prices way above market rates and indexed to inflation. You can earn 80 cents per kW/h for your rooftop solar power. But a consumer buying electricity pays about 6.8 cents per kW/h (regulated by the Ontario Energy Board) for usage up to 600 kW/h and 7.9 cents per kW/h after that. The catch is that we, the people, have to pay for it. The province has said that if you include the HST that started last July 1 you will be paying 42 per cent more in electricity fees by 2015. This is not all due to renewable fuels but you can bet they were low-balling.
Ontario’s experience as North America’s first green energy region is discouraging. We are now discovering other problems. The green energy revolution was supposed to generate jobs. According to the Vancouver-based think tank the Fraser Institute, renewable energy projects do create jobs but at the expense of other jobs. In Ontario “the government has failed to take into account the jobs destroyed through higher electricity prices to small businesses and consumers,” noted a Fraser Institute commentary last month. “Several recent research studies on the European experience with feed-in tariffs have found that each job created by subsidized renewable energy comes at the expense of at least two or more jobs elsewhere in the economy.”
After 10 years of green energy in Spain and the U.K. independent studies found that for every renewable energy job created in Spain, 2.2 jobs were lost. In the U.K. 3.7 jobs were lost. Ouch. The Fraser Institute is just thinking as any good managers of a household would: if we can’t afford it we don’t buy it. Compare with the current provincial government position: if we can’t afford it, we raise taxes or prices or both.
As for green energy cleaning up our air, what’s there to clean? The Fraser Institute notes that: “75 per cent of Ontario’s electricity comes from nuclear and hydro power, which do not generate emissions. Twenty-two per cent comes from coal and natural gas-fired power plants. Ontarians have paid hundreds of millions of dollars for installation of advanced emission control devices on those plants. As a result, Ontario air pollution levels have fallen dramatically since the 1970s and 1980s, a point easily confirmed by consulting any edition of the government’s annual Air Quality in Ontario report.”
Solar and wind power are expensive job killers that offer few benefits, other than making us feel good about being environmentally friendly, even if they’re not. (I would, however, still jump at signing a contract to profit from the feed-in-tarrif program if I had the chance to earn money from a bad idea. Unfortunately the province has just discovered how expensive it is going to be to hook thousands of new projects to the grid.)
It is worth noting why the Germans are so crazy for green energy. Germany figures it will be out of fossil fuel in about 60 years and is uncomfortable with importing Russian oil because Russia has been known to turn off the tap.
Ontario on the other hand, is three times the physical size of Germany with about one-sixth of the German population. Furthermore, Canada is not even close to running out of fossil fuel, which is a cheaper alternative to solar and wind.
Adding to the absurdity, Ontario’s so-called green energy plan was based on the idea that decreasing carbon emissions would stop global warming. In other words, it’s a plan we don’t know will work to prevent something we are not sure is happening.
(Patrick Meagher is editor of Eastern Ontario Farmers Forum.)
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