County Sustainability Group The Green Energy Act (GEA) – A Global and Local Perspective

The Green Energy Act (GEA) – A Global and Local Perspective

Don Chisholm
May 5, 2010

Among industrial nations, Canada has about the lowest consumer cost for energy - oil for transportation and a mix of nuclear, fossil fuel, hydro and other renewable sources to provide our electricity for home and industry. Any leader with vision knows the days of cheap and easy fossil energy are drawing to a close. Even the Pentagon now suggests oil reserves may not meet needs later this year. (Wars are being fought now, and will be in the future, because of dwindling oil reserves.) The acceptance of this reality strongly suggests that energy costs will soon rise, in order to reflect their true cost to society

The GEA makes Ontario the envy of environmentally-minded people around the world as the leading jurisdiction in North America with incentives for replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.  While this may somewhat increase our cost for electricity now, the sooner we get started on this transition, the better prepared we will be for the inevitable effects of peak oil.  

We already see the positive results of the FIT (Feed In Tariff) section of the GEA, as entrepreneurs across Ontario rush to install MicroFIT packages for property owners that have a sunny southern exposure on roof or ground for solar panels, and who wish to generate a revenue stream by selling electricity to Hydro.  The GEA stipulates that an ever-increasing percentage of materials used in FIT programs must be manufactured in Ontario, leading to an increase in manufacturing jobs. (There are also FIT programs for larger solar systems on industrial size roofs, or for farm biodigesters that convert biomass to electricity, sold to Hydro.) 

Our PEC council, along with many others in Ontario, requested help from the province in dealing with the thorny issue of setback guidelines for large wind turbines. A 550 meter setback guideline was established throughout the province.  Now corporate and private developers, and community ventures, can plan large scale solar or wind farms.  PEC land owners will finally be able to harvest the rich wind and sun resources that favour our particular geographic area. 

One can easily imagine that, given the Ontario initiatives plus possible future renewable energy initiatives in neighboring states and provinces, agreements will lead to geographically widespread cooperative electricity sharing. This will open up the ability to buffer the variability of energy output from wind or solar farms with our hydro-electric resources as storage and back-up, giving us ever higher levels of renewable electric energy to power our homes and future cars.    

Recent progressive renewable energy initiatives in California have led to an approximate 12% increase in renewable energy content on the state’s electrical grid, to a total of about 25%. The CANWEA target for wind energy in Canada is 20% by 2025.

Getting off fossil fuel for power generation and cars could also be seen as a proactive measure to improve the general health of Ontario residents and to reduce medical costs in the longer term.  An Ontario Medical Association report states that 9,500 people died premature deaths related to smog from fossil fuel burning in 2008.  25 of those who died were fellow residents of Prince Edward County.  Just imagine the huge hospital and medical costs associated with these deaths, and with the treatment of those who still have smog-related illnesses.

Every source of energy has its list of advantages and disadvantages.  We read horror stories of mountains and valleys in the Appallachian region being destroyed to access coal. Deaths and illness associated with uranium mining and processing often make news. New gas drilling techniques in rural Canada and the US pollute both ground water and surface water. Solar farms are relatively benign but occupy large areas of land for producing energy at a commercial scale. 

Large wind farms have the smallest land footprint and the best energy return on energy investment of any renewable source.  Their visibility and minimal sound may cause some annoyance to a few people who live close to them, but tens of thousands around the world live comfortably as neighbours with no complaints at all.

If we do not soon abandon fossil fuels from our energy-intensive lifestyles, the experts tell us that human caused global warming may soon destroy the very Gaian living systems of Earth that sustain us.

Ontario’s GEA is one small step toward a sustainable future

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