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GREEN ENERGY having growing pains, but renewables are the future - editorial - Woolwich Observer

April 27, 2012 By:  

As a provincial policy, green energy has been something of a flop, at least in the short term. With demand down and capacity growing, wholesale prices have fallen, widening the gap between conventional sources and what Ontario is paying for electricity generated by feed-in tariff (FIT) projects. Ontarians are subsidizing the use of higher-priced alternatives.

Peak and mid-peak rates are expected to rise by more than eight per cent May 1, courtesy of the Ontario Energy Board. Off-peak rates will rise by 4.8 per cent.

“Ontario’s power system is fuelled by consumers to the tune of about $16-billion a year,” says energy expert Tom Adams. “That number is headed for $23-billion or $24-billion soon, by 2016.

“By the end of 2013, Ontario is on track to have the highest electricity prices of any jurisdiction in North America.”

That’s hardly music to the ears of the McGuinty government, already being lambasted for its energy policy.

A budget that calls for the merger of the Ontario Power Authority and the Independent Electricity Sector Operator, touted by the government as a cost-saving measure, is less than a drop in the bucket. The savings amount to 16/100ths of 1% of our total electricity bill, notes the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.

The government has also appointed Murray Elston, former president of the Canadian Nuclear Association (nuclear being the source of many of Ontario’s electricity woes), to search for ways to reduce the costs of electricity distribution companies such as Waterloo North Hydro, which are responsible for 11 per cent of our total electricity bill.

The producers responsible for more than 80 per cent of the ever-rising electricity costs get a free ride.

Consumers and taxpayers, as always, will pay the freight.

Methods for getting out from some of that burden, at least on a bi-monthly billing basis, will be front and center at the Green Living and Tech Fair on today (Saturday) at the St. Jacobs arena. Part of Woolwich’s Healthy Communities Month, the event focuses on energy-saving tips, from little changes right through to the alternative technologies at play in the province’s much-maligned Green Energy Act.

Among those manning the booths in St. Jacobs will be Glen Woolner, general manager of Community Renewable Energy Waterloo (CREW), an advocate for alternatives and a supporter of Ontario’s support for sustainable energy.

“We’re on the right track. We’ve covered so much ground in the past two and half years, it’s phenomenal,” he says of the measures taken thus far, acknowledging there will be growing pains on what he sees as the inevitable path for our energy future.

A long-term investment, green energy projects lead to energy security and a thriving economy, he maintains. In the short-term, there are hurdles.

“We have to get over that hump somehow. We have to allow ourselves a transition time.”

The big picture aside, CREW also focuses on what individual homeowners can do to reduce their energy use, and the bills that follow.

Woolner points to his group’s Power $aving Network (P$N) electricity self-audit toolkit, which can be borrowed free of charge from libraries in Waterloo Region. Equipped with meters, instructions and charts, the kits provide homeowners the chance to get a comprehensive picture of their electrical use and how to reduce it.

The average user finds savings of 25 per cent, he notes, just through eliminating power-wasters he or she didn’t even know about, for instance.

“It helps you find things that are wasting your money, and everybody’s money because overall demand drives … more spending on things like nuclear plants.

“It does make a difference.  If we all did that, it would make a huge impact,” he adds of the changes identified by the audit and the subsequent lowering of demand.

An all-volunteer, non-profit group, CREW is essentially the creation of energy-saving enthusiasts, many of them engineers who were early adaptors of technologies that became advocates for conservation and renewable energy sources.

Woolner, for instance, has spent years making his Kitchener home a model of efficiency that employs geothermal, solar hot water and photovoltaic systems.

He and other CREW members would like nothing more than to see others hop on the energy-saving bandwagon.

“If you have an interest in doing that, we’re happy to help you.”

The more people that get involved, the sooner Ontario – and, indeed, everywhere else – can put costly non-renewable power options behind them. Instead, we’ll have free energy. Oh, the tools needed to generate that electricity cost something, but the price is falling all the time. That, of course, is the rationale behind the government’s green energy strategy: spend upfront to foster an industry and watch the production costs fall even as more jobs are created.

We’re not there yet, but it’s only been a couple of years. Enthusiasts have been applying techniques and technologies for decades, but it’s only recently that we’ve seen a concerted, government-level approach. The benefits won’t be obvious for a while.

Perhaps in another decade we’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about – and why we didn’t go green sooner. Dalton McGuinty might prefer to see dividends sooner – it’s all about re-election, after all – but the widespread application of what people like Woolner have known for years is still in its infancy.

 

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