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Do Renewables Have Your Vote?

May 30, 2014

What could be smarter than getting our energy from sources that have no fuel costs, produce no pollution and can be accessed just about anywhere?  That is the beauty of renewable power and helps to explain why green energy is the fastest growing sector of the energy industry worldwide.  

As members of a community renewable power co-operative, we see the benefits of green energy first hand and find it odd that any political party would want to drag our province back to the fossil fuel age.

Our co-op uses investment dollars raised from the public to build large solar power systems across the province.  The result is emissions-free power, new revenue streams for local businesses, and money kept in our community through investment returns paid to local citizens.

But isn’t solar power expensive?  Actually, it is more and more cost effective. Ontario recently cut the rate paid for large rooftop solar power installations like ours by close to 40%.  That reflects the fact that, thanks to a huge rise in global production and new, more efficient technology, costs for producing solar power are dropping rapidly – by at least 50% in the past five years alone.  

Solar power also reaches peak production on hot sunny days when power demand in our province also spikes as we all switch on our air conditioners.  Before, we would simply fire up coal or gas-fired generating stations to meet this peak demand at a cost that could often top $1 a kilowatt-hour during peak hours.  That’s expensive power and it comes, even with gas plants, with an unhealthy dose of pollution on some of our worst air quality days.   Meeting that demand with solar is less costly and less damaging to our health.

But, critics say, you can’t produce solar power at night.  Of course not, but solar is just one piece of the renewable energy puzzle.  Wind power is often at its best at night and therefore integrates very well with solar.  Water power can store power by simply holding water behind dams and then releasing it when power is needed.  Biogas units, like the Zooshare community power project at the Toronto Zoo that will use “zoo poo” and supermarket waste to produce electricity, can be dispatched anytime.  In short, we’re moving away from highly inflexible giant generating stations and toward a smart system of integrated local power systems.

And that’s good, because as we saw during Hurricane Sandy in the northeastern United States and right here at home during last winter’s ice storm, relying on big traditional power sources can leave you sitting in the dark when those increasingly frequent severe storms hit.  We need more solar panels on roofs close to where power is being used, not more distant nuclear stations that are prone to breakdowns and take days – not minutes like a windmill or seconds like a solar panel – to restart.

Of course, we are all concerned about rising electricity bills.  But let’s look at what is really driving rising electricity costs.  In the past decade, Ontario has spent more than $11 billion rebuilding an aging power transmission system.  It has spent tens of billions building and, in some cases, relocating gas plants.  And it is about to spend tens of billions more on rebuilding aging nuclear stations, a recipe for cost overruns and delays. Just $7 on the average Ontarian’s roughly $140 monthly hydro bill goes to pay for wind and solar power.  It is not renewable power that is responsible for your hydro bill increase.

More importantly, if we want to have a cost-effective and reliable electricity system in the future, there is no question where we should be investing: Renewable energy is the only source where costs are falling – rapidly.  It is the only source that can effectively reduce our increasingly costly climate change impact today.  And it is the only source that can help us build a more resilient and reliable electricity system in the face of the kind of extreme weather that has already been “baked into” our climate due to our over reliance on fossil fuels.

As Wayne Gretzky said, you have to skate to where the puck is headed.  Let’s not miss the net by backtracking on green energy.

Want to act before the critical upcoming election? Visit www.vote4renewablepower.ca for tools and resources to help.