Ontario Election 2011: This is, and must be, a referendum on green energy
Aug 13, 2011

Ontario Election 2011: This is, and must be, a referendum on green energy

In all of North America, Ontario is unique in its approach and scale of tackling the dual problems of declining cheap fossil fuel availability and global warming. It has implemented North America's highest rates for feed-in-tariffs, a program that pays a premium for clean energy providers to feed into the grid. In so doing, it has aggressively aimed to both attract big corporate interests to base themselves in Ontario and to promote small business and individual investments in green technology. This implementation has been far from perfect, and it needs many changes, but the general direction is necessary and laudable. I believe that this coming election must be framed about the green energy issue over all others and that this equates to a vote for the Liberals.

When green energy is discussed, outside of Ontario, it is most often discussed entirely in terms of consequence aversion. That is, we want to avoid the negative consequences of global warming or the negative consequences of fossil fuel depletion. What is discussed less is the positive consequences of investing heavily in green technology. First and foremost of these is economic. In response to the converging realities of these twin consequences, the ultimate response looking down the road is going to be a major economic shift towards green energy. It is, as they say, merely a matter of time. What is up for grabs, however, is who manages to lead that transition and, in so doing, positions themselves to reap the most in economic benefits from it. For Ontario, it is about the possibility of having the RIMs, Magnas and Bombardiers of the next decades - and the gamut of smaller business to support them - be in green energy and to bring to Ontario all the jobs and economic benefits that come with them.

One of McGuinty's greatest successes has been to achieve, partially, this reframing of the green movement in terms of economics. His government claims, for instance, some 50,000 jobs in wind power alone by 2012. Whether this will actually be achieved is doubtful, but regardless of the true number that reframing is an important success. Compare this to Canada's other success story in this issue which is the BC governments carbon tax. That policy I support, at least partially, but it neither captures the scale of immediate investment that the feed in tariff program does nor was it presented to British Columbians in terms of its economic benefits and job creation to nearly the degree as it was in Ontario. The hallmark of his plan has been the monstrous seven billion dollar Samsung deal to provide wind and solar with the creation of perhaps 16,000 jobs over four years.

The point of investing in Ontario is not just about global warming or fossil fuel depletion. While surely we have a moral imperative to care about these things, our contributions will be small compared to that of the world. But we should care about our own economic well being and we have an economic opportunity here that should not be ignored. That we are doing the right thing, and something that will have to be done a some point anyways, is just icing on the cake. The reason to go green here and now is because it is a good economic investment.

A vote for the Conservative party is clearly a vote against this plan. Hudak has promised to cancel the tariff program and rip up the contract of the Samsung deal. Both plans, incidentally, are wreaking havoc through uncertainty in this market given the reasonable chance that Hudak could win it. With 89% of Ontarians supporting investment wind energy and 70% supporting it even in their own community there is clearly a widespread interest in the program. What needs to be done is to make sure that this issue is the chief issue up for debate in this election and that this 89% of people prioritize this issue over others.

A vote for the Green party also, ironically, is not advancing green energy. I have voted Green and I support much of the movement. I think they have great value in putting the topics of global warming and the like onto the table and in the public consciousness so they can be discussed. However, they are less useful when the issue actually is on the table. When that happens, it is important to actually make sure the right side of the argument wins and the importance of voting for third parties to reframe issues dwindles. This is why the only time I have voted Liberal was in the Dion election when green energy was the key election issue and, unfortunately, lost. So while the Green party may support this issue as well, voting for them right now does not help promote this issue.

That leaves the NDP. Given the sweeping success of the NDP in the last federal election, many on the left may be tempted to vote for the NDP. They might think that they identify more with the policies and values of the NDP and this is the time when the NDP might have a shot. I personally voted NDP in my Toronto riding of Parkdale-Highpark in the 2011 federal election and was thus part of a Liberal to NDP seat exchange; it is tempting to want to do this again. I urge progressives to resist this temptation out of strategic prudence. Poll numbers are not good for the NDP and show them lagging far behind the Liberals and the Conservatives. Baring eleventh hour polling changes ala Quebec in the federal election, or a truly large advantage in local candidates, the strategic vote for the left must be the Liberals. What we have right now in energy policy is too unique in North America, too important, and is such a huge victory for the left, that we cannot risk it in deference to many of the other reasons one might conventionally vote for the NDP such as reframing issues, multi-election goals, building a progressive movement, etc.

Now many may well have valid criticisms about the program as it is. NDP supporters, for instance, may well dislike the Samsung deal thinking that it gives too much to mega corporations and squeezes out the potential for smaller, homegrown Canadian businesses to thrive. Granted. Moderate conservatives may dislike the closed door politicking that occurred to get this dealt through without their voices heard. Granted. All Ontarians may dislike the rise in home energy costs. Granted. But we have to look holistically at whether we are getting a net benefit out of this and I maintain that it is clear we are.

This doesn't mean we should just roll over, reelect the Liberals and stop at that. We need to keep building the movements and pressuring until we get the BC-esque carbon tax, the proceeds of which could offset the home electricity costs from the green energy tariffs. We need to push for more transparency, democratic involvement, and accountability in the dealings of our government with corporate partners. And we need to push for extra assistance to small and medium sized, Canadian founded businesses that can become the world leaders in green technology so next time we don't have to rely on the Samsungs of the world to get us off the ground.

A questioner at a talk by James Hansen that I went to, a world leading climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute, raised a question that I think might touch a lot of progressives, asking whether we ought instead of worrying about (in that case) cap and trade should be focusing on the kinds of larger scale socioeconomic reforms that would lead us away from our current overly financialized and corporatized system that seems too structurally resistant to the kinds of changes we need. Hansen answered by granting that there was well worth having debates over how to fundamentally change our socioeconomic structuring but the problem of global warming (and I would add fossil fuel depletion) were sufficiently important and time restricted such that we were forced to try and solve them within the constraints of our current system while larger socioeconomic changes would have to be pushed in parallel. The Liberals are far from perfect and their plan is far from perfect. Yet it remains a leader in North America, is a great sign of hope, and as such this blog endorses the Liberal Party in the 2011 Ontario Elections.

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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1 comment:

Dolores said...

while I support green energy - I do not support nuclear. We are getting our green energy at a price. And that price is being responsible for contravening the 1978 Porter Commission which said no new nuclear after the last Darlington if we have not resolved the toxic waste in perpetuity legacy we are leaving to future generations. The NDP and Green Party are the only parties supporting no new nuclear - a phase out. They both support Green Energy. the NDP support OPG going green versus new nuclear. It is ecological arrogance to continue our reliance on nuclear especially in light of the ongoing multiple meltdowns in Fukushima. While Suzuki praised the liberal government's work with the Green Energy Act - he also chided the Premier for his continued reliance on nuclear and lack of a carbon tax. I note there is not one mention of nuclear in the liberal platform, while it accounts for 50% of the energy supply to the grid & the lionshare of the costs to taxpayers (before historical overruns - which will be even greater in a post Fukushima world.) He is misleading voters using green energy to satisfy the Elite Energy producers.

We do not know the full implications of the 20 years of unreported tritium leaks in Pickering ground water - let alone Fukushima's impact on the planet. Even from an economic standpoint, new nuclear is not the answer - its increasing in cost whereas green energy is reducing. our failed nuclear legacy bankrupted Ontario Hydro in 1999 resulting in a $30 Billion Debt Retirement Charge for decades of nuclear cost overruns - and we still owe $16 Billion yet. Lets add another $33 Billion x 2.5 historical cost overruns? This is another horrible legacy - the same one we were left infact. It is irresponsible given Green energy is actually decreasing & through economies of scales will be less expensive by the time new nuclear can even be built (takes up to 10yrs.) Indications are grid parity will be achieved in 5 years.

We could already power the world with today's technology via wind, solar and water through distributed generation (smartgrids)>this is where the $33 Billion should be going. Gas co-genertion can be the stop gap during the nuclear phase out - combined with energy efficiency upgrades of buildings.

I'm voting NDP. They are also offering green building retrofit conservation rebates ($5000). Buildings are #1 C02 emitter. The grids should also be a priority - they have been neglected for decades.

The liberal plan panders to nuclear which caps green tech growth at 50% by 2018. Building nuclear is expensive, CO2 intensive - it is not clean energy and not the answer to climate change. Conservation & Rapid scaling of distributed green energy mix is the best hope to keep us below the 2 degree danger threshold to avoid runaway climate change. We need to get back to 350ppm C02, we're presently at 390ppm! We have a small window to prove to future generations we weren't the most selfish generation yet.

Unfortunately, the long term energy plan still caters to the Elite Energy producers (URANIUM in this case) We are on the cusp of a 3rd Industrial Energy Revolution worth trillions which will solve our economic woes, and save the planet. Please use your vote wisely.

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