Toronto Star cares not what high rates are doing to you.
Published On Tue Oct 5 2010
When the Liberals came into office at Queen’s Park in 2003, they inherited a mess in the energy sector. The previous Conservative government had experimented with deregulation, and when electricity rates soared as a result, the Tories responded by freezing them, with taxpayers making up the difference. Investment in new supply dried up even as demand for electricity rose. Refurbishment of aging nuclear plants was put on hold after huge cost overruns. And the province grew ever more dependent for electricity on burning coal — a major source of both smog and greenhouse gas emissions.
To their credit, the Liberals have not shied away from tackling these problems with a series of measures, starting with the lifting of the rate freeze. They are phasing out the coal-fired power plants and replacing them with renewables and natural gas. They are investing heavily in hydro facilities. They are refurbishing nuclear plants in a systematic way. They are installing “smart meters” that charge households less for electricity used in off-peak hours. They are upgrading transmission lines.
All this is costing billions and driving up electricity rates. The opposition parties at Queen’s Park have seized on the rate hikes to denounce the government’s handling of the file while offering little, if anything, as an alternative. (Reading between the lines, however, one can surmise that the Conservatives plan to keep on burning coal and to scrap the Green Energy Act.)
The opposition clearly has the Liberals on the defensive. “I don’t think that we really took the time to help them (the public) understand why it is that we had to modernize our electricity system and that there are real costs associated with that,” Premier Dalton McGuinty told the Star last week.
To regain the upper hand in this debate, the government needs to produce a long-term power plan setting out where our electricity will come from and how we are going to pay for it in the coming decades. Such a plan was first promised several years ago and is long overdue. Energy Minister Brad Duguid is promising it will be released by the end of the year. That is a deadline that should not be missed.
The government also needs to come to grips with the alphabet soup of agencies that have replaced the old Ontario Hydro in the electricity field: OPA, OPG, IESO and so on. They appear to duplicate each other or to be working at cross-purposes. The government should issue a white paper outlining options for streamlining the sector.
The debate in Ontario on energy issues has been unfortunately reduced to sloganeering by both the government and opposition. The release of fact-based documents outlining plans and options for the future would be the first step toward restoring reason to the debate and allowing voters to make an informed choice.