Thursday, June 17, 2010

Energy Act details must be scrutinized

Orangeville Citizen,

I have been receiving flyers in the mail and seeing ads in this and other papers trying to interest me in installing a solar panel system in order to “make money from the sun”. The Province’s Green Energy Act guarantees that any producer of “green” electricity, no matter how small, can be allowed to connect to the electricity grid, and sell power to the electric company. Sounds very progressive, very “democratic” and fair, right? Perhaps a great concept in the ideal world…. until you look closely at the details and weigh the consequences of such a plan.

The Hydro company will pay me approximately 12 times more for my “green” electricity than I pay that same Hydro company for “their” power (whether it is “green” or not…think about that one!). All secured in a 20 year contract. This works out to be a pretty darn good investment, with payback period of around 6 years, and a yearly return of between 14% and 17%. There are thousands of people and companies lining up to get in on the deal.

The trouble is, to my way of thinking, if I sign up to get my “share”, there will have to be other people who will pay me for the privilege (and for the fact that I have money to invest, and land and a building to install the panels on). Because where does this extra money come from? It comes from other users of electricity and the taxpayer. So my decision to profit from a government’s foolish policy is based in a selfish short-sighted attitude that does not care for my neighbours.

My following this course of action will force other people to pay more for their electricity. These other people are likely to be people who are not as comfortable as I am, and how can I feel good about forcing them to pay more? And this is exactly what is happening in our province today.
I received my Hydro bill last week to see an enclosure that announced that the kilowatthour rate has gone up and the delivery rate has gone up. We have the Green Energy Act and the Province’s (lack of a sound ) Energy Plan to blame for that. It seems far too few people want to make the connection between the rising rates and this push for “green power” (I love the colour green and I love the natural world, but I am SO tired of this expression!)

But what about the laudable concept of doing less harm to the planet by choosing smarter energy sources, like wind and solar, you may ask? And shouldn’t we be willing to pay more for these less harmful approaches? Well, sure, if they worked (without bankrupting the province). The problem is that they don’t work as promised, or not very well at least.

All of the wind and solar capacity that we put into the grid through these taxpayer subsidized programs will have to be (and are being) backed by the traditional power plants (gas peaker plants are being forced on Oakville and the Holland Marsh).

Often the wind does not blow, and every day, predictably, the sun does not shine. Our need for electricity may rise and fall daily, but that need is always there, ‘round the clock.

A friend of mine told me how he was considering a solar power system too. Attracted by the lure of the Province’s plan, he and his wife looked into the idea, and concluded that since, in effect, his neighbours would be paying him, that it was not really an idea that he could support. For him it made more sense to build his own “grid” and to wean his dependence on the industrial production of power. That is how wind and solar power can work. On the small scale, with individuals lessening their dependence on the industrial grid, and cutting their demands on that grid. Congratulations to he and his wife for having the marvelous insight and firm principles to refuse that selfish path. The trouble is that there will be way too many people willing to go for it, and he, and I and all of our neighbours will be paying the price.

Dennis Sanford, Melancthon Township


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