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Minister wants 'green' laws; Smitherman says he plans to study German system;

The Kingston Whig-Standard: JENNIFER PRITCHETT - June 25, 2008

Ontario's new energy and infrastructure minister, George Smitherman, says he's got a lot to learn about "green" energy, but declares he's eager to start.

"It is fair to say that I know less about this subject than anyone in the room," an apologetic Smitherman told a gathering of more than 600 people yesterday at the international wind-energy conference being held in Kingston.

After arriving at the seventh annual World Wind Energy Conference at St. Lawrence College in a Toyota hybrid SUV, Smitherman made his first public appearance in his new role.

He was appointed to the position on Friday after Premier Dalton McGuinty merged the infrastructure and energy ministries in a cabinet shuf fle. Smitherman had served as health minister for five years.

In his new job, Smitherman is in charge of billions of dollars in infrastructure programs in Ontario, including upgrades to roads, bridges and transit systems.

Smitherman's biggest challenge will likely be overseeing the province's $26-billion plan to refurbish its aging nuclear sector, which includes building two new reactors.

Yesterday, Smitherman spoke of the balance the province has to strike between maintaining the controversial nuclear system that provides roughly half of Ontario's power and increasing

reliance on more renewable forms of energy such as wind power.

"We support small, community-based [renewable-energy] projects," he told the conference.

He also stressed the importance of protecting the natural environment as Ontario tries to meet its energy needs while phasing out coal as a means of firing power plants and "replacing it with green sources of energy."

"It's not just for ourselves, but for future generations all around the world," he said.

In addition to retrofitting Ontario's energy sector, Smitherman said the province is also concentrating on reducing its energy needs with a target of slashing its requirements for energy by more than 20 per cent, or 6,300 megawatts, of the estimated demand by the year 2025.

In an interview, Smitherman spoke of his interest in creating a Green Energy Act for Ontario, legislation already in place in various countries in Europe.

He said he plans to travel to Germany, the world's leader in wind power, to learn first-hand how that country has used renewable energy so effectively.

Looking at the types of legislation countries such as Germany already have in place is key, he said, to moving Ontario forward in this area.

A poll released yesterday by the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association indicates that people want to get the majority of their electricity from "green" sources.

The survey, conducted this month, found that 49 per cent of people surveyed would like to see the province get 74 per cent of its energy from renewable sources.

Seventy per cent of respondents said they believe at least half of Ontario's electricity generation should be produced by renewables by 2018.

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