Last week, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives tabled legislation to repeal the Green Energy Act, 2009, as a part of Premier Doug Ford’s campaign promise to decrease the cost of electricity on consumers. It is seen as a largely symbolic move, in the wake of the party’s recent announcement that 758 renewable energy projects authorized by the act will be cancelled immediately. Ford fails to consider the consequences of these regressive actions, which will likely end up hurting thousands of jobs while incurring more costs on consumers and small businesses.
There is no evidence that halting hundreds of renewable energy projects will decrease the price of electricity. Former Energy Minister George Smitherman says that green energy is not the sole reason for electricity rates more than doubling across the province over the past 10 years. Other energy projects, such as the rebuilding of the Pickering and Darlington nuclear plants, the construction of hydroelectric dams in Northern Ontario, and increased delivery fees, have all contributed to rising electricity prices.
Presiding Energy Minister Greg Rickford says the move will save provincial ratepayers $790 million. However, John Gorman, president of the Canadian Solar Industries Association, calls it “preposterous” to act as though cancelling these relatively small-scale projects will result in savings for consumers as the government has yet to actually pay any of the companies. In reality, it will mean significant job losses in the industry and added costs to the small businesses invested in the sector.
While Ford claims that the act resulted in fewer manufacturing jobs, interim Liberal leader John Fraser is concerned that cancelling it will mean job losses for thousands of Ontarians that have been gainfully employed by the now-halted renewable energy projects. This concern is echoed by Gorman as well as New Democratic Party energy critic Peter Tabuns.
Rather than saving consumers money, this decision directly impacts small investors like farmers, school boards, municipalities, and First Nations groups who have retrofitted their properties with solar panels, for example, as well as the local installers, contractors, and engineers involved in the projects.
In addition, Gorman notes that the decision will likely lead to lawsuits, incurring more costs to small businesses and taxpayers. One such notable case concerns the White Pine Project, a wind farm in Prince Edward County that is just weeks away from completion, which the Tory government promises to put on the chopping block next week. The company behind the green energy project, wpd Canada, says the cancellation could cost more than $100 million and that they are considering legal action.
Ford’s hasty decision will result in job losses, billions of dollars wasted, and mistrust between businesses and the province. Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner points out that the sudden cancellation of hundreds of contracts with no notice or due process sends a negative message to businesses, ultimately exposing Ontario to financial risk.
Despite successfully encouraging the development of Ontario’s green energy sector, the Green Energy Act is a flawed document that was implemented poorly. Most notably, the McGuinty government neglected the Ontario Power Authority’s (OPA) warnings that flooding the market in a time when renewable energy prices were dropping would potentially increase rates for consumers. The OPA advised the McGuinty government to develop the solar industry slowly in order to adjust to the declining prices of solar and other forms of renewable energy when the act was passed. Instead, there was a massive influx of contracts in the first two years. This resulted in $2.6 billion in additional spending for consumers. A 2011 report by the Auditor General claims that the government ignored the advice of the OPA because it chose “stability” for energy investors over the best interests of consumers.
Although Ford is not wrong in criticizing aspects of the Green Energy Act, the trend of hastily tabling regressive environmental policies will have significant social and economic costs.
For example, his scrapping of the cap and trade program means that universities like U of T will lose out on resourcespromised to them under its Greenhouse Gas Reduction program. UTM had received funding for a number of projects through the program, such as upgrades to air conditioning and ventilation systems and the installation of electric vehicle charging stations. Now, students will no longer see the benefits that these programs would have had on campus infrastructure or the long-term environmental and health benefits of renewable energy in general.
Madeleine Kelly is a fifth-year Ethics, Society, and Law and Environmental Studies student at New College.