Slowing Green Development And The Next Ontario Election
By Randall White
According to last week’s surprise Speech from the Throne, there are eight current Ontario provincial strategies for “investing in the things that matter most to you.”
The sixth is all about “building a competitive business environment, driven increasingly by innovative, low-carbon industries that support growing the economy and creating good jobs.”
This points back to the Liberal government’s now seven-year-old green-energy economic development policy.
It has borne a lot of risks since it started with the Dalton McGuinty government’s Green Energy and Green Economy Act, 2009. And it continues to get Premier Wynne in trouble in 2016 — with a spring 2018 election not all that far away.
Critics still complain that promotional subsidies for wind and solar alternatives to high-carbon electricity raise energy costs. Initial green-energy job creation forecasts proved over-optimistic.
The World Trade Organization has forced an end to popular local content requirements. Old rural Ontario residents and new Buddhist real estate developers continue to complain about noise pollution from wind turbines, “onshore” across the countryside.
Strictly provincial debates on the green-energy economy often flounder on a sea of conspiracy and other pure theories. Other parts of the real world today that have experimented with similar policies may suggest at least the beginnings of more evidence-based disagreement.
Consider Germany, for instance.
After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear energy disaster in Japan, Angela Merkel’s federal government in Germany embarked on what The Guardian in the UK described at the time as “the world's most ambitious plan to power an industrial economy on renewable sources of energy.”
Ms. Merkel was an “unlikely green energy champion.” But she remains a leader who does what she says — as anyone who has marvelled at wind and solar energy in the German countryside over the past five years can testify to. The November 2015 National Geographic headline suggested “Germany Could Be a Model for How We’ll Get Power in the Future.”
Yet even Angela Merkel has faced some of the same criticisms of green-energy economic development policies as Ontario Liberal governments since 2009 — lately especially, and most specifically on increases in electricity costs.
Late this past spring Chancellor Merkel struck a new deal with the 16 German state premiers to, as The Guardian explained this time, “put brakes on green energy," although the federal government in Berlin is sticking by its target of 40–45% of electricity production from renewable sources by 2025.
Closer to home, Governor Jerry Brown’s California state government has had some parallel recent reversals of fortune with its cap and trade program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, much touted by some when it began four years ago.
The main problem in California at the moment is that the last two auctions by the Air Resources Board have seen very small purchases of available carbon credits by businesses that want to run their carbon emissions beyond prescribed levels. Only about 10% of available credits were purchased this past spring, and not quite one-third this summer.
Some ongoing supporters of the California program have argued that the last two carbon auctions have been less successful than before because, as a mid-summer article in the Los Angeles Times urged, the program has already “cut pollution ... So why do critics keep calling it a failure?”
Critics gleefully continue to urge that, whatever else, gluts of carbon credits don’t make cap and trade programs look good.
“Ontario’s new cap and trade program” — though now with “Quebec and Mexico” instead of “Quebec and California” — was nonetheless also alluded to as part of the current green-energy development policy north of the Great Lakes, in last week’s Speech from the Throne.
Getting straight to the local political bottom line, what might all such recent developments be telling us about the spring 2018 Ontario election?
For one thing, in Canada (as in Germany), current green policy-making may have important federal-provincial (or federal-state) dimensions.
A federal-provincial working group on carbon pricing mechanisms, established by the March 2016 “Vancouver Declaration on Clean Growth and Climate Change” is supposed to be reporting very soon.
Some may wonder: could part of the green-energy development debate be taken off the table for the spring 2018 Ontario election, by some new federal-provincial agreement (or even enforced federal standards) on carbon pricing across Canada?
Meanwhile, the Wynne government has now addressed criticism of too-high electricity costs with an across-the-board eight per cent rebate on residential electricity bills.
The wisdom from both at home and abroad at the moment seems to be that while many still want to see something done about green-energy economic development, only a few want to move at all quickly on this kind of public policy right now.
And that also seems quite a lot like the wisdom that seeps from between the lines of the surprise Ontario Speech from the Throne.