All will pay more for province's Green Energy Act

Simcoe Reformer: Toby Barrett - July 22, 2009

The door is now closing on the latest chapter in Ontario's Green Energy Act with the passing of the deadline for public submissions.

And given the plethora of existing, and planned, wind turbines in Norfolk and Haldimand, I expect the proposed minimum 550 metre setbacks to continue to generate local discussion.

As the passage of the Green Energy Act story plays out, we have seen government members in full sales-mode on what they claim to be the benefit of Bill 150. The act is touted by government as building a stronger, greener economy creating a projected 50,000 jobs in the first three years; better protecting the environment, and combating climate change.

Those interested would be well advised to heed the warning of the old adage -- "don't judge a book by its cover."

Much of my debate in the Ontario Legislature with respect to the Green Energy Act focussed on the cost to ratepayers. As common sense suggests, energy costs under Bill 150 would increase beyond the government's one per cent projection.

Last winter, we in the Ontario Opposition commissioned London Economics International to do an investigative report. Here are a few of the highlights:

- Energy costs will rise by up to $1,200 per Ontario household every year by the time the new Energy Act is fully implemented.

- The new Energy Act is a disincentive for Ontarians to conserve -- those who conserve may see their electricity bills increase anyway;

- For every 100 MW of wind power created, the McGuinty government will need to build gas-fire generators as a backup, which in turn will create more greenhouse gases.

Despite crowing, "bold new plan," we've already seen government go into retreat with regard to the power-grab nature of "mandatory home energy audits" -- a key piece of the legislation. Nanny-state $300 mandatory audits performed by government inspectors were originally called for to determine energy efficiency of a property put up for sale.

Further, Section 15 of the bill allowed inspectors to go into businesses without notice and without warrant to look for audit documents.

As Opposition MPPs, we denounced the audit and inspection aspects as both a cash and power grab costing home sellers thousands of dollars in lost home equity. Homeowners and realtors across the province wrote en masse decrying the $300 tab and related costs at a time when government should be helping -- not hindering -- Ontarians already hard-hit by the economic downturn. In fact a poll by the Ontario Real Estate Association indicated that two-thirds (65%) of Ontario's principal residence homeowners opposed the McGuinty mandatory home energy audit program and instead overwhelmingly favoured, at 92%, voluntary audits.

Given the vocal opposition to these key aspects of Bill 150, the McGuinty government backed off and rewrote the bill to a) allow home buyers to waive their right to the $300 audit, as long as they do so in writing, and b) eliminate the search powers of inspectors altogether.

In spite of the issues of cost and misguided principles, the Green Energy Act received government support and is now the law.

However, the regulation stage has brought forward additional concerns including: the exemption of renewable generation projects from the Environmental Assessment Act, and the proposal to subject wind turbine energy projects to the above-mentioned mandatory minimum setback of 550 metres.

Additional changes are to be determined.

Toby Barrett is MPP for the riding of Haldimand-Norfolk