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We could power our own homes

The Toronto Sun: PAUL TAALMAN - April 24, 2008

With a request for proposals having gone out recently, it appears Premier Dalton McGuinty's government has decided to build another nuclear power plant somewhere in Ontario.

First, let me get one thing straight: I'm not anti-nuclear.

Nuclear power is currently the most efficient way to produce the energy this province desperately needs. However, I have two concerns about it.

The first is radioactive waste. With a half-life of over 150,000 years it's not right for us to leave this problem for future generations (lots of them) to deal with.

My second concern is the cost of building and maintaining nuclear facilities.

Living between two of them as I do, Darlington in the east and Pickering in the west, it has been my experience nuclear power plants never perform as promised for as long as they're supposed to, and not for the money originally budgeted for them.

The McGuinty government is prepared to spend $40 billion on a new nuclear plant.

In the past, we were told such plants would last 30 years, problem free. They haven't. Nor have they come in on budget.

Darlington was supposed to cost $2.5 billion. It ended up costing $14.4 billion.

Once completed, it looks like nuclear plants actually last about half as long as they were supposed to, before they need multi-billion dollar repairs.

Checked out your Hydro bill lately? We're still being hit with debt repayment fees for the Darlington, Pickering and Bruce nuclear plants.

SHORT TERM JOBS

Nuclear proponents might argue: "Look at all the jobs that were created while the facility was being built."

True. While the plant was under construction about 5,000 people worked on the site for up to 10 years. But once it's up and running, it takes less than 1,000 people to operate a nuclear facility.

Here's my alternative proposal.

Let's take that $40 billion (not even taking into account the actual cost at the end of the day) and divide it into two equal halves.

Let's take one $20-billion half and use it to create 20,000, well-paying, $50,000-a-year-jobs, each lasting 20 years. (I'll come back to how we can fill them in a moment.)

But first, let's take the other $20 billion and divide it by $2,000, which is the approximate cost of installing a 1,750-watt solar energy system on your home. That means we would be able to outfit 10 million homes in Ontario with solar panels, on the south and west facing slopes of roofs, or even on windowless walls.

(Economies of scale should bring down the actual cost of each system, so my estimate of 10 million homes is probably low.)

While a 1,750-watt solar energy system may not supply all your home's energy needs, at certain times of the day, when you're not using the power generated, it can be stored for when you do need it, or diverted back into the electrical grid for which you'd get paid. Yes, the government would pay you for generating power. Wouldn't that be a nice twist?

The energy created could mean no more power plants of any kind would need to be built. Perhaps even those nasty, coal-fired plants we have now could be closed.

YOU COULD OPT OUT

As a homeowner, you could opt out and just continue paying your regular monthly hydro bill.

Now, let's get back to those 20,000 jobs, paying $50,000 a year for 20 years. How do we fill them?

Well, in order to install those 10 million solar energy systems, we're going to have to create a workforce to do the job.

Since we know government isn't good at creating jobs, the whole industry could be put out to private tender.

Finally, from a tax stand point, at a 20% tax rate, $8 billion of our $40 billion investment would be returned to government for other uses.

So let's summarize: 20,000 good-paying jobs, each lasting 20 years; 10 million homes dramatically reduce their energy consumption; no new, expensive nuclear facilities or more radioactive waste; a cost-efficient, environmentally-friendly and effective use of our tax dollars.

Heck, Premier McGuinty might even walk away with a Nobel Prize, just like Al Gore did.

Sounds like a "win-win" to me.

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