In the early days of Ontario’s foray into wind and solar energy projects – well before the Ontario Liberals’ Green Energy Policy, which was enshrined within legislation in 2009 – countries such as Denmark and Germany were trotted out as towering examples of what could be achieved if governments were more embracing of renewable energy programs.
In Denmark, for example, massive wind turbines lined the sea coast. In Germany, wind turbine generation was eagerly embraced, and solar energy was so heavily encouraged that in many German communities the roofs of Lutheran churches were fitted with panels.
There was a determination in Denmark and Germany to reduce those countries’ dependence on fossil fuels, and to shift the generation of electricity to the communities and to the citizens. Generous subsidies provided an incentive – and there existed the promise of a manufacturing boom; the solar panels and the turbines would have to be designed and built, and they may as well be built in Denmark and Germany.
All of this activity was backed by government edict. Members of the European Union were compelled through legislation to reduce their national reliance on fossil-fuel energy to the point that at least 20% of their electricity would originate from renewable resources by 2020, and at least 27% by 2030.
All of this was admirable, and the Ontario Liberals were eager students. As in Germany and other EU countries, Ontario’s plan included an industrial component. And those who took on either a solar or wind project would be handsomely encouraged through generous subsidies, courtesy of the taxpayer. And they still are.
But now even the Germans are backing off. They, along with other major western European countries, have slashed renewal energy subsidies. And the EU has declared that while its 2020 goals are still in place, energy goals for 2030 are no longer legally binding.
The problem? A lack of money. As wonderful and as admirable as these green energy projects are, they just aren’t financially sustainable. In fact, in some EU-member countries, wind farm and solar power projects have been cancelled, while others have been postponed or scaled back.
What must be most galling, however – especially for the Germans – is that much of that manufacturing component has now been shifted to China. One could almost accept the idea of subsidizing renewable energy projects if the domestic manufacturing sector was subsequently strengthened. But in Germany, some of those taxpayer-supported subsidy funds are being sent to Chinese companies.
Much of this is also being played out in Ontario, but the response from our provincial government hasn’t been as loud as it has been in the Europe. Some green energy subsidies have been scaled back, but there has been no formal recognition from Queen’s Park that its green energy policy may have been bad economic policy.
Yet the experience of the Danes and the Germans suggests that Ontario has much more to learn about green energy.
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