Minister has dim mindset on electricity

Electricity DSM 1

For 90 years we’ve been living off the foresight of those who brought cheap electricity to Ontario by taming Niagara Falls.

They laid the groundwork for industry, for prosperity and, unfortunately, for the mindset that still prevails today.

That mindset is locked into supply side economics, which holds that more growth requires more electricity. Why else would Ontario Power Generation, the electricity generating company that formally was part of Ontario Hydro, be spending billions of dollars to refurbish nuclear generating plants? Why else would Energy Minister Jim Wilson be a fervent supporter of producing more electricity regardless of cost?

But the mindset of 1910 no longer makes sense in 2001. Technological innovation has changed the world. We now have a multitude of ways to limit the amount of energy needed — everything from high efficiency electric motors, through advanced power management systems and vastly improved building designs, to increasingly low demand household appliances.

We now can do a lot more with far less. Or, to quote Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, « Saving fuel is generally cheaper than buying fuel.’’ And saving fuel, in this case electricity, comes through demand side management — reducing use through promoting energy efficiency among users.

Did you know, for instance, that:
•   If existing buildings were retrofitted, and new ones were designed, to be energy efficient, Toronto, and all of Ontario would need no more electricity than what is produced at Niagara Falls and at the various hydro dams around the province?

•   Two-and-a-half to five times more jobs are created by developing energy efficiency than are created by building and operating a new power generating station?

•   It is cheaper to increase energy efficiency than it is to continue operating a thermal generating plant — regardless of whether it is run on coal, natural gas, or nuclear energy — even when the cost of building the plant and delivering its power are not counted in the equation?

•   Through energy efficiency, Seattle saved twice as much energy as Chicago did and, as a result, its electricity prices were half those in Chicago?

•   68.7 per cent of the energy in the fuel used to generate electricity at Ontario’s coal-fired and nuclear generating stations is wasted and released as heat emissions?

None of this is new or surprising. We’ve known of these relationships for at least 30 years. During the oil crisis of 1973-86, energy efficiency was heavily promoted in the United States, with the result that by 1986 the energy consumed was about equal to that used in 1973, even though GDP had grown by 35 per cent, the population had increased by 14 per cent, industrial production had jumped by 29 per cent, and the number of cars on the road had multiplied by 33 per cent.

However, in 1986 oil prices plummeted. Cheap oil was back, and gone from North America was the urgency for energy efficiency.

But in Ontario in 2001, the need for energy efficiency is again urgent. Wilson has finally acknowledged publicly that electricity prices are going to go up, despite all the benefits that he has been claiming will come with the province’s forthcoming deregulation of electricity.

Again, this is no surprise. People outside government have been predicting that electricity prices will skyrocket. How could they not, with billions of dollars being poured into nuclear plants, and with Ontario’s decision six years ago to cancel support for the highly successful Green Community programs, which offered homeowners advice on how to conserve energy?

If you need more information on the benefits of energy efficiency, you can find it on Lovins’ website at, on the website of the Tellus Institute at, on the U.S. Dept. of Energy website at, in publications from The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy in Washington, and from a report called « A Sustainable Energy Plan for Toronto, (1999)’’ prepared for Toronto City Council.

Read the information and then weep, because we’re all about to pay through the nose for the mindset at Queen’s Park.


NEXT WEEK: to be continued

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