Hydro pulls the plug on sustainability

Ontario Hydro 2

Whenitcomes to sustainability, is Ontario Hydro justtalking the talk?

Potentially, Hydro couldbeOntario’smostpowerfulcatalyst in turning the province toward efficient and ecologicallyfriendly uses of energy. And, in the process, itcouldbespinning off a wealth of jobs and consulting opportunities in the privatesector — much as the City of Toronto has donewithitsAtmosphericFund to combat greenhousegasemissions.

When Maurice Strongwas chairman of Hydro (1992-1995), the potentialwasappreciated and a management structure based on the principles of sustainabilitywasintroduced.

That structure, thoughweakened, couldstillbe effective if the willwerethere. And the language of Hydro’spolicy objectives has since been strengthened. But talkingisn’twalking. Hydro, itappears, is no longerwalking the walk.

It has regressedfromembracingsustainability to simplyconcentrating on environmental management.

To explain the difference, let me quotefrom the report Strongused in fashioninghis management structure. CalledA Strategy for SustainableEnergyDevelopment and Use for Ontario Hydro, itwaspreparedunder the direction of Jim MacNeill, whohad been secretarygeneral of the United Nation’sWorld Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission), and David Runnalls, a senior advisor to the president of Ottawa’s International Development and Research Centre.
« Sustainabledevelopment. . . is not the samething as environmental protection’’ eventhough « environmental protection is a criticalingredient of sustainability,’’ the report said.


« Environmental protection . . . isconcernedwith the health, property, and ecosystemeffects of development, and measures to amelioratethoseeffects, usually end-of-pipe measures. Sustainabledevelopmentembraces the wholedevelopment cycle, but focuses on the upstream end. It isconcernedwith inputs intodevelopment, includingenergy, resources and material inputs, withproductlines and processes, and withefficiency and competitiveness.’’


There are a lot of thingsthat Hydro has been doingthat are commendable. But the basic test of itscommitment to sustainabilityisitsapproach to renewableenergy. It’s a test Hydro fails.


WithStrong as chairman, Hydro initiated a program to aggressivelypromote the development of electricityfromwind turbines, privatelydeveloped mini-hydro dams, and generatorspowered by methaneproducedfromwaste.


« Weweretrying to leapfrogalong the path of renewableenergy,’’ says Brian Kelly, whowasdirector of Environment and SustainableDevelopmentunderStrong.


A yearago the leapfrog program wascancelled, Kelly was let go, and hisdepartmentwasdowngraded. Last December, Hydro’s division responsible for research and development of renewableenergywasshut down. Kelly isnowvice-president of Environics International Ltd., an adjunctprofessor at York University, and president of hisown consulting firm.


When the leapfrog program wascancelled Hydro officialssaiditwasbecause the cost to Hydro of buyingelectricityfrom the renewableenergyprojectswastoo high.


Kelly agrees the costwas high — hesays about 9.5 cents a kilowatt hour (kWh) and Hydro officialssay about 10 cents/kWh, compared to 8.5 cents/kWh for electricityfrom the last nuclear station Hydro built. However, says Kelly, the costwas high  because the leapfrog program demandedtechnologicaladvances.


If Hydro went for existingtechnology, renewableenergycouldbedelivered at 5 cents to 7 cents/kWh, Kelly says. He has urged Hydro to call for proposalsfrom the privatesector to immediatelydevelop 1,000 megawatts of conventionalrenewableelectricity. If someproposedcosts come in too high, Hydro can select onlythoseproposalsthatmeetitscriteria.


Hydro isunmoved. Itscurrent position isthatonly if customersask for renewableenergy, and are willing to pay more for it, will Hydro developit. Period.


That seemscontradictorysince Hydro has neveraskedcustomers if theywant to buyelectricitythatisgoing to come fromitsrevampednuclear network after $8 billion isspent fixing it up.


The real tragedy in thisisthat Hydro has retreatedso far fromsustainabilitythatit no longerwants to even test possibilities for renewableenergy.

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