Go Green the Right Way
This week, Energy Minister Brad Duguid, said consumer energy bills will rise by 3.5% a year, as part of the government’s 20 year energy plan. Only part of this increase is due to the McGuinty government’s commendable commitment to up the amount of electricity generated from green sources, like wind and solar, from 3 to 15% by 2030.
Green power is the way of the future, but we can yield more from this considerable investment than just green energy.
The Green Energy Act is the centrepiece of Ontario’s green energy investment strategy. The Act offers guaranteed access and lucrative feed-in-tariff prices for utilities, homeowners, and companies that pump green energy into the grid.
As anticipated, companies – from IKEA to Samsung – are taking advantage of the tariffs (which will be phased down over time) and are investing millions in wind farms and solar panel installation. It’s expected IKEA will generate $684,000 in revenue annually from the solar panels it’s putting on the roofs of just three of its retail outlets in North Etobicoke, Vaughan, and North York, from an investment of $4.6 million.
So why aren’t our public utilities, like Toronto Hydro, getting in on the action?
We have the roof top space. Toronto has over 565 school buildings, 99 libraries, 350 community housing apartments, at least 70 subway buildings, over 150 recreation centres, and many office buildings. Not all, but some of these buildings will be ideal for solar panels.
We desperately need good local jobs. Free trade agreements have decimated Ontario’s manufacturing sector, and unemployment in Toronto still hovers at 10%. Public utilities are more susceptible to public pressure to go above and beyond the requirement in the Green Energy Act to manufacture a percentage of the parts in solar panels and wind turbines in Ontario than foreign utilities. And then there are the mostly permanent jobs in research and development, management, finance, and administration that go with being headquartered in Toronto – which is the case with Toronto Hydro and Hydro One, but certainly not Samsung or IKEA.
As government agencies, utilities are also required to do their part to tackle the class divide and embrace equitable hiring policies so more people of colour, young people, and newcomers have access to good local jobs. Indeed, a new report by the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation reveals that young men (most notably immigrants and people of colour) are the new face of poverty in Canada – and this is the demographic that would also benefit from a renewal in the manufacturing sector.
And finally, we need the revenue. Foreign companies send the money we pay on energy bills to their shareholders offshore, but public utilities reinvest our money into the public sector, which means more money for health care, schools, and deficit repayments.
Without question we must go green to do our part to tackle climate change. The McGuinty government, however, must adjust its energy plan so we go green in a fair way that benefits all Ontarians.