April 18, 2012

Clean Air Alliance promotes sensible energy plan

As published in The Erin Advocate

Ontario's energy system always seems like a shell game designed to confuse the average,  income tax-paying, air-breathing Hydro customer. It is a never-ending strategy of subsidies and rebates designed to mask the true cost of electricity.

If we still owe billions of dollars in interest payments for nuclear reactors that are worn out, and still don't know what to do with the radioactive waste, does it make sense to borrow billions more to build new reactors?

Does it make sense to import coal from the US, and then, because we have excess generation, turn around and sell coal-generated power back to the US? Ontario has promised to close its coal-fired facilities by 2014, but the plants continue to spew air pollutants and toxins, along with carbon dioxide that is helping accelerate the harmful effects of climate change.

"We are the only jurisdiction in the planet that is phasing out coal for environmental and health reasons," said Angela Bischoff, Outreach Director for the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, speaking at the Fast Forward Film Festival in March. The Climate Change Action Committee of Erin presented The Last Mountain, a film about the fight to stop the removal of Appalachian mountain tops for their coal.

Ontario gets some of its coal from that region to fuel electricity generation plants. Bischoff said only three per cent of Ontario's electricity comes from coal, down from 25 per cent just seven years ago, and that coal could be eliminated ahead of schedule.

"Right now, we (Hydro customers) are subsidizing OPG (Ontario Power Generation) about $300-400 million every year just to keep those coal plants open. With the high cost of keeping the plants open and the low amount of coal that's being burned, it is no longer profitable to be burning coal, so we're lobbying to have the coal plants shut down early, like right now. We have 36 per cent excess electrical capacity on line.

"With green energy coming on line, natural gas coming on line, we don't need to be keeping these coal plants open...By shutting down the coal plants and committing no more dollars to nuclear expansion, we could meet all our energy needs much, much cheaper."

The Clean Air Alliance is a coalition of about 100 organizations across Canada, including businesses, municipalities and non-profit groups, committed to the goal of a 100 per cent green energy grid by 2030. They are opposed to the government's plan to build new nuclear plants (at a cost they put at more than $80 billion over ten years) to supply a significant part of Ontario's energy needs.

The current doubling of the transmission line through Erin is part of the infrastructure needed to deliver more electricity from Lake Huron reactors to Lake Ontario cities.

"Our strategy is to find political leadership...but none of the political leaders right now are advocating for a massive shutdown of the coal plants or a shift in funding away from new nuclear reactors to greener electricity," said Bischoff. After the huge cost over-runs of the past, the Alliance has advocated that the bid process for reactors reflect their full life cycle cost and that people be fully aware that nuclear energy has been highly subsidized by taxpayers.

They promote a combination of three less expensive strategies to make nuclear power unnecessary: 1. Conservation measures to reduce demand. 2. Importation of clean hydro-generated power from Quebec, where they have excess electricity. 3. Efficient use of natural gas (capturing waste heat), as an interim measure.

She said these measures would allow the province to shut down reactors at the end of their useful service and not replace them, opening the grid to a flood of green, renewable energy. That will be generated not only by wind turbines and solar panels (both large-scale and home-based), but biomass processes, geothermal (extraction of heat from the ground) and new technologies such as capturing the energy from waves and rivers.

She also criticized the way wind farms are being developed in Ontario, with no control or ownership by local communities. Wind turbines have been well accepted in Europe where there has been strong community involvement.

The Alliance is urging people to contact political representatives to make their views known. More information is available at www.cleanairalliance.org and www.CoalMustGo.ca.