Green Energy Act Surpasses Expectations

With the price of everything seeming to go up, as well as a slow economy and escalating public debt, Ontarians can be forgiven for any negative reactions they may have expressed toward the Green Energy Act and the provincial government’s commitment of public money to renewable energy generation. However, less than two years after the Act was signed into law, it has already shown success.

Passage of the Act in May of 2009 allowed the province to introduce its feed-in tariff (FIT) program later the same year – a historic renewable energy incentive designed to help Ontario phase out coal-fired power generation in the province by 2014. The FIT pays producers of clean energy high prices for feeding clean electricity into the power grid, prices for which hydro customers will have to foot the bill. The trade-off, of course, is that the program has created, and continues to create, green jobs, revenue for the province, and educational opportunities such as photovoltaic training classes – not to mention the obvious benefit: clean air. Ontario Solar Academy is an example of a successful institution whose classes prepare workers for the green jobs of the future.

Photovoltaic, Wind Energy Up, Fossil Fuels Down

Keith Stewart, who currently works for Greenpeace, predicted in 2005 that energy use in Ontario would drop 10% by 2010, while power planners predicted a 5% rise in demand. During this period, demand dropped from 157 terawatt-hours to 140, a reduction that exceeded Stewart’s predictions. “We think we can do a lot more to bring per capita demand down faster,” he says. Meanwhile, renewable energy is now roughly on par with natural gas and nuclear in terms of new power brought online, thanks largely to the FIT. In fact, rather than rushing to build more fossil-fueled plants, the provincial government canceled plans for a gas-fired generating station in Oakville and shut down four coal-fired plants in Nanticoke.

As for the costs, they were bound to escalate. Ontario power rates had already begun to climb before the FIT, in response to mounting utility debt. You might think of some of the money as long-term stimulus funding, as it creates green jobs at a time when the province, in the midst of a financial crisis and declining manufacturing sector, needs sustainable employment most. The truth of the matter is that Ontario is doing its part to protect the environment for future generations. We are entering a new world where solar panels are the new investment, photovoltaic classes the new education stream, and solar installers the new oil rig workers. Thanks to the Green Energy Act, it is a sunny day in Ontario.

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