Green energy bill passes in Ontario

Keith Leslie - May 14, 2009

New legislation that the Liberal government promised would create 50,000 new jobs and make more room for renewable energy passed in the Ontario legislature today, amid warnings from environmentalists that the province remains too dependent on nuclear power.

The Green Energy Act, touted as a key piece of legislation that will transform the province's struggling economy, passed third reading by a vote of 59 to 13, with opposition from the Progressive Conservatives.

The Tories have long argued that some of the measures in the act amount to extra costs for already strapped consumers.

"The premier likes to say Ontarians are willing to pay more for things like gas and green energy, but unfortunately he doesn't tell them how much more he's going to force them to pay," Opposition Leader Bob Runciman said in the legislature.

"We know that energy bills are going to shoot up as much as $1,200 per year as a result of this tax grab disguised as green energy."

However, Energy Minister George Smitherman said the government is taking steps to help people lower their power bills, such as introducing time-of-day pricing for electricity, and noted the legislation would make it easier for the province to bring renewable energy projects online.

"We're trying to make the commodity of electricity one where people use it wisely and take advantage of all opportunities to use less of it, and especially to use it in less expensive periods," Smitherman said.

The Green Energy Act also replaces a patchwork of local bylaws with provincewide standards to govern where energy projects can be located.

The act came under fire after Premier Dalton McGuinty warned that the province won't tolerate any objections to new wind turbines or solar farms that aren't based on safety or environmental concerns.

Environmentalists complained Thursday that the plan still relies too heavily on nuclear power, and said the real test of the Green Energy Act will come next month when the government announces whether Ontario will build new nuclear plants.

"If the government is sincerely interested in expanding green power, it's going to say no to new nuclear plants," said Greenpeace spokesman Shawn-Patrick Stensil.

"If it says yes to new nuclear plants, then the Green Energy Act is nothing but a green wash."

The Pembina Institute agreed the nuclear decision will be the real "litmus test" of the province's commitment to going green.

"They cannot pass a Green Energy Act one month and then squeeze out investment in green energy by dedicating the electricity grid to nuclear mega-projects the next month," said Pembina spokeswoman Cherise Burda.

The province has already backed away from a key component of the legislation that would have forced homeowners to pay for an energy audit before a home could be sold.

An amendment to the act will allow home buyers to waive their right to the $300 audit, as long as they do so in writing.

Smitherman said that change would provide more flexibility in cases where the buyer intends to knock down the property or do major renovations, but he's not expecting many buyers to opt out of an audit.

"I rather suspect as people are making the most important investment of their life, they're going to find that to be very valuable and important information," he said.

Ontario realtors have complained the additional costs would hurt homeowners in an already difficult market.

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