Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Greens Not "Absolutely" Opposed to Fossil Fuels, Nuclear and Hydro Power

An edited version of the following text was published in the print version of the Northern Life (Tuesday, September 18, 2012) and on their website on Tuesday, September 24/12.  The following text represents my complete submission to the Northern Life, and includes hyperlinks. 

The original article appearing in the Northern Life which prompted Pat Rogerson's response can be found at, "Ring of Fire plan burns First Nations: Greens", published online on August 8, 2012.  This article was written after Green Party of Ontario Leader, Mike Schreiner, hosted a press conference regarding the Green Party of Ontario's call for the provincial government to develop a Sustainable Northern Development Plan (see: "Greens demand a Sustainable Development Plan for the North to maximize benefits from the Ring of Fire", GPO Press Release, August 8 2012)

Below my original letter to the Northern Life, I have also attached comments which I published online at the Northern Life, in response to the earlier letter to the editor which prompted my letter to the editor.


Re: “Columnist missed a few points”, Letter to the Editor, the Northern Life, published September 11, 2012

As an officer of the Sudbury Federal Green Party Association, I feel compelled to reply to the letter to the editor by Mr. Joel Whipple, published in the Northern Life on September 11, 2012, in response to an earlier column by former Green Party of Ontario candidate Pat Rogerson, published August 28, 2012. Mr. Whipple’s recent letter to the editor contained many statements which were misleading, and in some cases, incoherent. While problematic, there was one assertion made by Mr. Whipple which was completely false, and requires a response.

Mr. Whipple wrote that “the Green Party absolutely opposes hydro dams, as well as nuclear and fossil fuels”. As a member involved in the grassroots policy development processes of both the Green Party of Canada and the Green Party of Ontario, I can assure Northern Life’s readers that neither the provincial or federal Green Party is absolutely opposed to energy produced through hydro-electric generation, burning fossil fuels, or through existing nuclear power facilities. Not only would such opposition be impractical in our society, it would be absurd.

The Green Party’s energy policies emphasize the need to conserve energy as a first priority. Energy savings accrued through conservation means alone would likely address Ontario’s power needs well into the next decade. The least expensive kilowatt of energy is the one which we don’t use. And there are ample opportunities for Ontarians and all Canadians to conserve our energy use.

However, the Green Party acknowledges that we require reliable power. Past investments have left us with an energy system where a significant majority of electricity in Canada is produced by burning fossil fuels, which power our transportation systems and produce electricity. Our governments continue to subsidize fossil fuel energy, to the tune of between $1.2 to $2 billion annually, despite Canada’s commitment to the G20 to eliminate these subsidies. Globally, estimates from the International Energy Agency suggest that governments are subsidizing fossil fuel costs at a staggering $409 billion per year.

In comparison, estimates peg subsidies made to green energy in Ontario as being responsible for a very modest 6% increase to our energy bills. In contrast, 45% of price increases on our electric bills are related to the production of nuclear power in this province. Of course, not all of the real costs of nuclear power appear on our bills. It is estimated that taxpayers will be on the hook for approximately $25 billion to store nuclear waste materials, once a viable plan for long-term storage is in place.

The Green Party has been on record for calls to eliminate the subsidization of fossil fuels, and saying “No” to building expensive new nuclear. Along with eliminating subsidies, we believe that all externalities should be factored into the price of energy production, so that consumers and policy-makers can make informed choices about energy use based on real costs. As far as fossil fuels are concerned, real costs must include the price of climate-changing carbon emissions. If subsidies could be removed from fossil fuel production, and the real costs factored into the price of energy, a significantly stronger case is made for investing in wind, solar, geothermal and hydro (where it makes sense to do so).

Fossil fuels and nuclear power, however, will be a part of Canada’s and Ontario’s energy mix for decades to come, due to the infrastructure choices we have made in the past. The Green Party’s emphasis on conservation, and incorporating full costs into the price of energy use does not mean that Greens oppose all forms of non-renewable energy production, as Mr. Whipple would have you believe. Instead, our policies recognize that Canada must embrace renewables to be a leader in the 21st Century green economy.

-Steve May, Officer, Sudbury Federal Green Party Association

Comments Published Online

As someone with a "few concerns" about Pat's article, I guess I have to express a "few concerns" with Joel Whipple's so-called "facts". First of all, having some experience and understanding with the policies of both the provincial and federal Green Parties, I can say unequivically that neither Party "absolutely opposes" hydro-electrical generation, nuclear power or the use of fossil fuels. Whipple's assertions here are completely misleading.

And speaking of misleading, while it's true that Hollywood made a movie called "Erin Brokovich", it seems that Whipple wants you to forget that there really was (and is) a real Erin Brokovich, who went through significantly greater hardships than those depicted in the fictional film in order to ensure water safety in her community.

As for wind and solar being "unreliable" and "expensive", I suggest that the author take a very close look at the real costs per kilowatt hour for power generation which is paid in this province for the production of electricity. When real costs are factored into the equation, nuclear energy time and again becomes one of the more expensive generating methods available, yet we derive more than half of our baseload supply from nuclear. Real costs for nuclear are impacted not only by the costs of generation, but include mining the product, subsidies and guarantees for insurance, and costs related to transporting and storing waste (something which, although we've been in the business of generating waste for 40 years or more, we still lack a plan to deal with). When externalities are considered, wind and solar energy production compares favorably to hydro, and costs are going down for renewables all the time.

I don't know what to say about someone who compares government scientists to expensive "pen-pushers". Last time I checked, scientists on federal and provincial payrolls (those remaining) were doing pretty good jobs of protecting the public interest. Part of that job includes peer-reviewing the work of private-sector expert-produced reports required by the Environmental Assessment process. Peer review is an integral part of the EA process, and indeed, testable and reproducible science relies on this sort of review, as any grade 10 science student could tell you.

And I'm at a complete loss to even understand what Whipple is trying to say with his last sentence, but it sounds like he thinks Cliffs might have been against hydro-electric generation? I hope not because that just seems bizarre.


Opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be construed as being consistent with the views of the Green Party of Canada.


Unknown said...

hi. thanks for sharing such a coherent and interesting post.Its already past time to think. strict laws promoting green energy needs to be enacted to promote green energy.

Buy Solar Panels Ontario

Sudbury Steve said...

@sabkon wells: Thanks for your comment - I agree with you 100%. At the very least, we must begin phasing out coal power on an accelerated time table.

Hope to see you here again sometime soon!