Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ontario’s New Energy Vision Misses the Mark on Climate Change

An interesting little program was brought to my attention earlier this evening as a result of tweet from someone whom I’ve only started following recently, but who seems to be on a very similar wavelength to me (if you’re interested, you may wish to follow @lurch5877 as well). The program is called “saveONenergy”, and it’s brought to you by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA). It’s a program designed to help power consumers conserve energy and save money, which is a great idea. But one of the primary motivating factors which the OPA is using to help promote conservation – the collection of Air Miles – speaks volumes about how disconnected from our global reality the creators of this program are. And the real shame is that it didn’t have to be this way.


Quickly, the saveONenergy program offers power users three different ways to conserve energy. The first is quite interesting, I think: the Peaksaver Plus program will have your local energy provider install a display in your home which allows you to monitor and moderate use. Unfortunately, this program isn’t available across all of Ontario yet. The Heating & Cooling incentive rewards you for replacing inefficient heating and cooling devices with Energy Star-rated products. And the Fridge & Freezer Pick-Up Program offers the collection and disposal of older, energy inefficient refrigerators and freezers, which can be a help when you’ve bought a new product and aren’t sure how best to get rid of the old one.

Climate Change Missing from Ontario’s New “Vision” for Energy

Together, these modest initiatives can lead to real energy savings for consumers. In fact, many consumers have opted to replace older appliances with newer ones precisely because of the longer-term savings which newer appliances can offer. This is the sort of behaviour which is in keeping with the Government of Ontario’s New Energy Vision, which was announced earlier today. In this announcement, the Ontario Ministry of Energy specifically references the saveONenergy program as one of the ways consumers can go about conserving energy. The focus of the announcement is almost exclusively on how conservation can save consumers money, which is unquestionably a worthy pursuit. But something important seems to be lacking, I think. Some connection not made…

There’s no question that conserving energy in Ontario is going to help, if ever so modestly, in the global effort to combat the climate crisis. Yes, it’s unfortunate and appalling that the Government of Ontario once again failed to make the explicit connection between emissions reduction and combatting climate change (likely because this government seems keen on going out of its way not to acknowledge climate change – because to do so would be to invite a closer look at its record on the issue). How can the Province of Ontario in this day and age put together an entire strategy about energy, which highlights the need for conservation, without making a connection to climate change? It’s just unbelievable. But it emphasises the disconnect which apparently exists in this Province between energy production and climate change, as highlighted by the misguided “rewards” offered by the OPA’s saveONenergy program.

Air Miles?

When it comes to rewarding consumer behaviour which assists with energy conservation, well I’m all for it. But surely to goodness there must be a better way of rewarding Ontarians for doing their part on the conservation front than by offering them Air Miles, and making it easier for them to engage in one of the most carbon-intensive forms of transport humanity has ever invented?

Look, I know that the Air Miles program offers participants more options than simply having their collected Air Miles applied to the cost of air travel. However, with the historical basis for the program in air travel, and with its very name promoting ait travel, it’s difficult to decouple the Air Miles program from the idea that it’s not promoting flying.

Yet, that’s exactly what our governments should be trying to do as part of a wider effort to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change. The fact that we have an energy conservation program in Ontario which rewards consumers for reducing carbon emissions by allowing them to generate carbon emissions through less expensive air travel is perverse. It’s absolutely perverse. And to me it speaks volumes about how the ruling Liberals are so clearly disconnected from the reality of the world in which we are living.

I know that saveONenergy is just a very modest program, and only a tiny piece of the puzzle when it comes to conservation efforts. Yet a Ministry of the Government decided to trumpet this program today, by letting Ontarians know what a great idea it is to conserve energy to save money, while making it easier for them to pollute by making air travel more economically convenient. So, modest or not, this perversity speaks volumes about where the current Liberal government is coming from when it comes to climate change.
Simply put, they just aren’t taking the issue seriously.

Consistency Needed

If they were serious, surely to goodness the OPA might have found a better way to reward those who conserve energy. Even something as simple as offering transit passes and movie tickets probably would have been a better approach than offering cheaper air travel. And that’s if the OPA didn’t want to get innovative. Surely even a modest rewards program could have looked at offering consumers credits for units of energy conserved (money back on electricity bills for “negawatts”). That would have been a good incentive for consumers – and would have helped further reduce emissions.

You can’t compartmentalize energy conservation from emissions reduction the way that this government seems to want to do for political reasons. Today’s announcement was based on a document produced by the Ministry of Energy called “Conservation First: A renewed vision for energy conservation in Ontario”. Nowhere in the entire document is the term “climate change” ever used. We can’t continue to take two steps forward and one step back when it comes to emissions reduction – and to achieving a healthy and sustainable vision for our future. Yet for all that the Liberals have accomplished here in Ontario with their efforts to reduce emissions, to me it seems that when a program like this is championed by a Minister of the Crown, I can’t help but think that maybe emissions reduction in this province occurred completely by happenstance. Clearly, there can’t be any sort of comprehensive plan in place. Maybe we just got lucky.

Yes, the Liberal government began closing coal-fired generating plants. Yes, they enacted one of the greenest pieces of legislation in Canada, in the Green Energy and Economy Act. But even with those two emissions-reducing efforts, they’ve bungled comprehensively. Promises made to Ontarians by then-Premier Dalton McGuinty would have seen coal plants closed by 2007. It’s 2013 now and they haven’t all been shut down. And the Green Energy and Economy Act’s preference for big, multi-national renewable energy projects over locally-initiated bottom-up energy production, along with its removal of local consultation for new projects has made the term “green energy” almost unutterable in rural parts of the province (at least if vocalized in a positive frame). Indeed, the backlash to windfarms in particular has been huge, largely because local citizens concerns are rarely if ever addressed because of the feeling of citizen powerlessness created by the legislation.

Again, great ideas, but the implementation was terrible.

And don’t even get me started on Eco-Fees…

A Real Vision Includes a Real Plan

If the Ontario Liberals were at all serious about climate change, they would have acted by now on one of their 2006 election promises – to put a price on carbon through a Cap and Trade emissions trading scheme. Sure, Ontario has since become part of the Western Climate Initiative, but that effort seems to have fallen apart with the collapse of the Chicago Carbon Exchange. Good riddance to a bad idea, I say, as I’ve never personally been a big fan of Cap & Trade for pricing carbon. But even a badly implemented price on carbon emissions would be better than what this government has done – which is nothing.

There exists a number of ways to price carbon, and this Liberal government hasn’t explored any of them. In British Columbia, their Liberal government imposed a tax on carbon pollution with corresponding reductions to income taxes. In B.C.’s case, both the penalty and the reward have assisted in reducing emissions. A higher price on carbon-rich products has assisted with conservation efforts. And by allowing citizens to keep more of their hard-earned income, citizens now have a greater choice on how they spend their own money. Suddenly, those more expensive, energy efficient appliances and personal vehicles (which offer longer term savings) become more affordable. It’s a win-win. That’s what prioritizing a consistent approach through planning gets you.

And it begs the question why today’s announcement about a New Energy Vision for Ontario which emphasizes conservation fails to use carbon pricing as one of its tools to achieve a more comprehensive but necessary outcomes. Sure, we all agree that conservation makes sense from a money-saving standpoint. But what about tackling climate change? Why not a strategy that both saves consumers money and comprehensively addresses the climate crisis in a consistent and planned-for manner?

Disconnected Liberals

Of course, I think that I know the answer: It’s because the Ontario Liberal government just doesn’t get it. Rather than providing a comprehensive program for energy conservation and emissions reduction, what we get is a series of disconnected measures which, if they do ultimately reduce emissions, will do so only by luck. There’s no serious “vision” at all in this so-called New Energy Vision.

With 400 ppm of carbon dioxide now being measured in our atmosphere, and with global temperatures expect to transform our planet over the next couple of generations, we really can’t afford to dither much longer. We deserve much better than what our current Liberal government is delivering. But here in Ontario, the alternatives to the Liberals might prove to be even worse, should voters elect either a PC or an NDP government in the next election.

Which is why I believe that it’s time for voters to put their trust in a few Green candidates. Having even one Green in parliament, as Elizabeth May has shown federally, can have an impact. In the meantime, people like you and me are just going to have to tell our government to “smarten up” and hope that they start getting the message. However, after a decade in power with so little to show for their efforts, I’m not optimistic.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)


Rural said...

I also found the Peak Saver Plus program of interest however upon reading about it I see that " Appliances such as your central air conditioner or electric water heater will be remotely activated during weekdays between 12 noon and 7 p.m and activations will only last for a maximum of four hours." Given that most of this time is ON peak its hardly a "peak saver" and thus more of an inconvenience than a saver.
An in home usage monitor however should be available to all of us so we can see exactly how much we use and when.

Rural said...

Further to this since the water heater will have been off since 7pm (as controlled by the 'peak saver' program) and your morning shower will have used much of the hot water stored, at noon (at the most expensive rate for TOD users) ALL the water heaters connected via this program will come on at the same time. That’s really going to help shed peak load!!