Sunday, October 23, 2016

How can I influence my province's energy policy?

Well, I hope you're impressed that I bothered to read (most of) Ontario's just-released discussion guide, Planning Ontario's Energy Future.
It's a consultative document, designed to give regular citizens a say in how the province shapes its energy policy for the next few years. It's also 52 pages long (in its PDF form), and reasonably dense with turgid descriptions of Ontario's energy structure and statistics, so I really can't see many "regular citizens" bothering with it.
My overall impression is of a rather self-congratulatory back-slapping exercise. On greenhouse gases in particular, the closing of Ontario's coal-fired power stations over the decade receives much self-adulation (as perhaps it should): "Closing three of the province's-fired generating plants and converting the remaining two plants to biomass facilities was the continent’s largest single reduction effort, and reduced emissions from the electricity sector by 80%."
The guide also outlines some other recent sensible decisions, from the recent announcement about sharing Quebec's relatively environmentally-friendly electricity supply to smart meters, microgrids, etc. And, yes, the share of renewable energy has increased dramatically in the last decade or so. Fair enough, but this is no time for resting on laurels, and there ia no mention of Ontario's recent bewildering decision to cancel new renewables contracts or the equally poor decision to subsidize electricity prices.
Neither am I all-in with the implicit assumption in the document that nuclear power is an unalloyed good. It boasts that nuclear power now provides 58% of our electricity, and that this is a good thing, mainly because it helps with our greenhouse gas commitments. But that is not the only issue at play here. It also tells us that nuclear is cost-effective - which is far from the simple truth - and takes it as read that refurbishing the Bruce and Darlington plants and extending the life of the Pickering plant are sensible things to do (not so neither, either from a cost or an environmental perspective).
The other glaring mistake that I can see is the level of satisfaction with the share of natural gas as a heating fuel. Gas now supplies 36% of our overall fuels demand, up from 33% in 2005. The document does admit that there has been a lot of attention paid to electricity generation at the expense of other energy use, and even mentions that it would be better to switch more space heating requirements from natural gas to our relatively clean electricity. But it then goes on to extoll gas as the way of the future, especially for some of the more remote aboriginal communities, and even discusses an expansion of our natural gas capacity. Surely, this is not the way we should be going, and seems inconsistent with some of the guide's other conclusions and assumptions.
So, I have read the document, and decided that it is wanting, in my opinion. But I still can't see me making any kind of submission to the consultation process. For one thing, I don't feel myself qualified to do so, and don't have the arguments and the statistics at my fingertips. There seems little point in writing in with a vague "oh, I'm not sure I quite agree with all of that". So, I guess I will just have to trust that the various worthy pressure groups that I subscribe to will do this for me.
Although in theory this is an open consultative process, and a good example of grass-roots democracy at work, in practice there is little I can do to influence our future energy policy, even though it is something I feel reasonably strongly about.

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