Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ontario’s Quickie Consutations

I was one of over 400 Torontonians who, on Monday, attended the public consultation on Ontario’s energy future. Here are some of my quick impressions.

Wow are people frustrated. And can you really blame them? Only three days of public consultations on decisions that will affect the province and planet for decades to come. To top things off, the provincial government decided to give the go ahead on a gas-fired electricity plant on the Toronto waterfront last Friday, before the public consultations got underway.

People were pretty upset over that. Paula Fletcher, Toronto City Councillor for the east end, was one of the first to give the Ministry reps a piece of her mind. Representatives from the government included Kathleen Wynne, MPP and Jeff Leal, MPP. There were other reps, but I didn’t catch who they were. I believe that Wynne and Leal were the only politicians present.

Fletcher took exception to the fact that the government reps were there to listen and not answer questions. She then accused the government of a serious credibility problem, citing the gas plant planned for her riding, and then called the consultations a “waste of our time.”

The government’s reputation as an unbending entity was solidified when the facilitator insisted on keeping to schedule, rather than accommodate the needs and requests of the people attending the consultation. After the facilitator ignored Fletcher to speak privately to someone else, Fletcher turned to the audience and made her final argument that millions of dollars are being poured into expensive and non-renewable energy sources, such as gas and possibly nuclear, with very little financial commitment to supporting energy conservation – the most efficient way to address energy consumption.

I would say that most who attended, whether they were for nuclear or not, strongly supported energy conservation. However, the issue is this: would conservation and renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, etc.) be enough to support Ontario after the coal plants shut down in 2009? Some argue yes, others argue that we can’t take that chance.

It certainly doesn’t help that the government of Ontario cites the importance of energy conservation, but has given little indication of a strong conservation plan.

One woman who spoke suggested that rather than commit billions to build new nuclear plants, to use that money to give every household in Ontario energy efficient appliances.

Another urged the government to change the building code to ensure that developers adhere to the construction of energy efficient buildings (bye-bye big airy lofts).

Many people vehemently opposed nuclear power. One scientist made a tearful plea to avoid this opton. She lived 800 km away from Chernobyl when its nuclear reactor melted down. A few brave and vocal souls got up at the end and made a plea for nuclear – citing that the waste isn’t that much and can be recycled, that the technology has improved, and that bananas are just as radioactive as nuclear plants. It was also cited that Germany, Japan and California, leaders in renewable energy, are using nuclear to augment their energy needs.

Others counted by saying that it’s been documented that nuclear reactors are not as safe as is claimed. We can’t forget the severe cost overruns from the past. On a minor note, it was pointed out that these reactors employ less people than the alternative energy sector.

One man got up and said he tried to take a course at Centennial College on wind turbines, but the course was canceled due to lack of interest. Where are the awareness building initiatives? He felt the government should be helping with this.

A gentleman from Solar Co said that he was one of the consultants to the Ontario Power Authority – as they were compiling information for their report. He told the audience that they took what he reported and twisted it around. For example, the OPA report says that photovoltaic solar panels are environmentally problematic because they rely on batteries. Not so, said the guy from Solar Co.

One gentleman spoke on the history of energy in Ontario and says that implementing the OPA’s report would repeat the same mistakes from the past.

It was noted that the biggest energy consumers are business. Recently the government gave them a big energy subsidy. What’s up with that?

Finally, one man addressed the issue of our moral obligation to protect our environment and biodiversity. We can no longer think of the economic bottom line without factoring in the true costs of our actions. If we don't, the economy will truly suffer.

The government has given little indication that it will effectively support conservation and the development of a renewable energy industry in Ontario. It has expressed strong interest in investing in nonrenewable energy. If this investment is supposed to support Ontario as it works towards sustainable energy consumption, how can we reach our goal when little is invested in these areas?

Related news:
Alberta’s Energy Minister Just Crazy About Coal


Anonymous said...

thanks cheryl for your summary of the recent energy forums for was accurate and descriptive .i know because i was there as factoid i wish to emphasize is that if ontario adopted a serious campaign to educate and implement an effective program of energy conservation/efficiency there would be no need for another billion dollar nuclear reactor .this has been proven in california which had similar energy problems .final note stop the energy guzzlers before they destroy this planet.

Cheryl McNamara said...

Thanks for the comment! I hope to see you tonight at City Council Chambers from 6:30 to 7:30 when representatives from California talk about their conservation efforts.