The Observer
January 13, 2012
Rod Hilts

Point of View: Is Grit’s clean air policy working or is a hurting economy the reason?

Is it just smoke and mirrors or is the Ontario government’s clean air policy really starting to pay dividends?

If you believe the Ontario Clean Alliance, then yes, the government is heading in the right direction. They are applauding new figures which show only 2.7% of Ontario’s electricity generation was coal-fired in 2011.

But Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey, a member of the Opposition Conservatives, thinks pollution is down because of the economic downturn, not the government’s clean air policy. He says a number of manufacturing facilities have shut down and a lot of energy production hasn’t been needed.

Somewhere between Bailey’s argument and the Clean Air Alliance lies the truth. The combination of government policy and economic downtown is resulting in cleaner air in our province.

Another reality of the government’s clean air policy locally will be the planned closure in two years for Lambton Generating Station. Aligning with the coal-is-bad for the environment mindset of the government, the closure will cut deep into Sarnia-Lambton’s economy. Two units were shut down last year throwing 100 employees out of work. When it closes, 300 more jobs will be lost. That is bound to taint our MPP’s opinion of the effectiveness of the Liberal government’s clean air policy. And for good reason. LGS has provided generous municipal taxes and above-average incomes to hundreds of local workers for decades. And no jobs of this caliber are on the horizon.

But behind the propaganda coming from both sides on the clean energy issues, Bailey makes a good point about the price Ontarians are paying for alternative energy. He said wind power is 8 to 11 cents per kWh compared to 4 or 5 cents for coal. Ultimately the hydro customer is the one who will pay the price.

The actual price of keeping the lights on in Ontario went up most recently on Nov. 1. On-peak power in Ontario rose to 10.8 cents a kilowatt hour, up 0.1 cents. Mid and off-peak power rose 0.3 cents a kWh to 9.2 cents and 6.2 cents a kWh. That means the average consumer using 800 kWh per month is paying $2.11 more for electricity.

The price increase is being attributed to more expensive power coming online, including refurbished nuclear units at the Bruce Generating Station and increased wind generation. Under the government’s Green Energy Act, wind and solar generation, along with forms of renewable power, are subsidized.

While both sides of the clean air movement will gladly pump out news releases trumpeting or criticizing the government’s plan, it’s Joe Public who sees the reality of the situation. Whether the increased price we pay for renewable energy is worth it remains to be seen. Prepare for a long propaganda war that could last for a number of years.