THE POLITICIZATION OF ENERGY
By Susanna Kelley
Are Ontario's politicians politicizing the province's energy file? And if so, what does that mean for the average person in Ontario.
The cuts to our monthly hydro bills promised recently by all three Ontario parties sound like reasonable answers to complaints by a public angry that their family budgets are going awry because of the shaky economy.
So some relief on the family electricity bill doesn't seem like such a big thing to ask.
But will it help the family budget in the long term?
And if not, why are the parties advocating it?
Politics, say many. There's an election coming in the fall.
Or is this is just the most recent example of the creeping politicization of the energy file by successive governments?
One of Ontario's most knowledgeable and respected energy experts says governments are increasingly putting their hands in what used to be a fairly arms-length process - a distinct change from the days when the old Ontario Hydro figured out how much energy we'd need and then produced it, says Jan Carr.
Mr. Carr should know: he's the former head of Ontario Power Generation, which was set up by the Tories to oversee electricity production after they broke up Ontario Hydro and tried to sell off parts of it to the private sector.
He says politicians are being increasingly influenced by special interest groups:
We should be deciding how much electricity we need and then producing it in the most economical way possible, Mr. Carr says.
Instead, for political reasons, the politicians are favouring one form of electricity generation over another.
The Liberal government's Green Energy Act favours renewable sources of energy - wind, solar, hydro.
And now that the private sector is more involved in making electricity, interest groups like the Ontario Waterpower Association (OWA) are running media campaigns to drum up more business.
Water is considered one of the cleanest, most reliable sources of renewable energy available. 25% of the province's electricity is generated by 200 water-based generating facilities. Niagara Falls, for example, has stood the province in great stead for almost 100 years, says OWA President Paul Norris:
There are 1000 megawatts of falling water-based facilities currently being developed, and Mr. Norris says there are 5,000 more MW that could be.
Tory leader Tim Hudak's platform calls for more water-generated electricity production.
But the OWA may be facing an uphill battle.
According to Mr. Carr, much of that 5,000 MW is far north, where there are no roads or transmission lines, and building them will be extremely expensive.
That may still be a reasonable thing to do if and when the 5000 square km Ring of Fire above the Albany River is developed. The area is thought to contain tens of billions worth of chromite, platinum and diamonds.
And it would, as Mr. Norris points out, enable some of the First Nations inhabiting the region to get off the expensive diesel generators they depend on for power.
But Ontario's Energy Minister Brad Duguid doesn't sound like he's about to move towards that any time soon. He will only say water in the north is a good backup plan:
Still, the fact that interest groups like the OWA feel compelled to run media campaigns to get politicians' attention says something.
And that something is that political pressure, rather than solid reasoning, is deciding our energy future.
Including our monthly energy bills.