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Renewable is Doable in Amstein, Germany

Dale Duncan: September 9th, 2007

A solar farm in Amstein, Germany. Ontario is planning to build one like it in Sarnia, but expect even more investment in nuclear energy in the coming years unless the Liberals and PCs can be convinced otherwise.

Cross-posted from Eye Weeklys Ontario Election Blog.

The Liberals know the general public isnt so hot on nuclear power thats why theres zero, nada, not one mention of it in their platform. Instead, their climate change plan proudly states that they will replace Ontarios dirty, greenhouse-gas-producing coal plants by doubling renewables and doubling conservation. Sounds nice, doesnt it?

Perhaps the Liberals are betting that the general public wont have paid much attention to Ontario Power Authoritys recently released long-term energy plan. According to it, the government will be spending $26.5 billion on nuclear power to meet our energy needs. More money will be invested in nuclear energy than renewable energy (such as solar and wind) and conservation combined. And despite all the talk about renewable energys leading role in our future, the government agency says that by 2025, 47 percent of Ontarios energy needs will still be met by nuclear power, making it our largest power source.

At least the Progressive Conservatives are open about their support for nuclear power, stating in their platform that nuclear is safe, reliable and greenhouse-gas free. Whether or not thats true is up for serious debate (even Torontos Medical Officer of Health wants more proof). What both parties ignore (or deny) equally well is that Ontario could meet its energy needs through renewables and conservation. Despite what were told, it is possible.

On September 7, a coalition of environmental groups launched a Renewable is Doable campaign to let people know that we can not only meet our energy needs without nuclear or coal, but also reduce our reliance on coal faster than the current 2014 deadline while cutting climate-changing greenhouses gases in half and saving money. WWF Canada and the Pembina Institute have done a study using the same data and computer modeling that the government uses to prove this claim, but all you have to do is look to other regions to see how unambitious Ontarios plan for renewable energy really is. The provinces plan for solar energy, for example, calls for 200 megawatts by 2025. Germany installed five times that much in 2006 alone.

The study found that the power authoritys plan doesnt take full advantage of Ontarios renewable-energy-generating potential. The provincial plan calls for only one-third of the possible wind energy and one-tenth of the possible solar energy that we could generate if we had the gumption. Meanwhile, thousands of megawatts from other sources, such as co-generation, are missing from the 20-year plan.

Both the NDP and the Green party oppose nuclear energy and support the phasing out of coal, with the NDP in favour of the same 2014 deadline that the Liberals set and the Greens promising to shut down all coal plants by 2009. Both also support aggressive energy efficiency and conservation programs (which, oddly enough, is how the Liberals tout their plan too). The Green Partys platform (the NDPs is yet to be released) includes a long list of goals, including a 40 percent reduction of 2004 power usage by 2020, which, they point out, would still leave us with an average energy consumption level higher than the average European.

On the energy front, there is one very important difference between the Liberals and the PCs one thats just as significant as the whole funding-for-faith-based-schools debate that has garnered the attention of the press. The PCs dont support phasing out coal: independent authorities tell us were still going to be relying on coal for a while yet, states their platform. Instead, theyd like to clean up coal-powered plants the single largest industrial contributors to air pollution according to the Clean Air Alliance through clean air technology, such as scrubbers.

The problem is: the more that we invest in big power plants, the more difficult it will be to truly embrace renewable energy. Once youve committed that much money to such big chunks of infrastructure, its hard to switch tracks. Ontarios energy future is being decided today.

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