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Ontario's Long-Term Energy Plan: It’s About Politics (As it should be!)


Energy is all about politics, and the Ontario government’s recently released and highly anticipated Long-Term Energy Plan  is a perfect example. The plan is a balanced road map for the future with something for almost everyone. Nuclear refurbishments satisfy the need for reliable baseload generation. Strengthening transmission ties address security of supply and efficiencies in the north. A focus on conservation and new technologies like the smart grid and energy storage lay a strong foundation for the electrical system of tomorrow. A continuing commitment to renewable energy helps mitigate climate change and community engagement tackles the need to better inform people of energy issues.

In spite of all these initiatives, the centre of attention in the media has been on the projected electricity rate increases. Everyone seems focused on the fact that ratepayers will continue to pay more for electricity for the foreseeable future. Well, welcome to the new world.

Higher electricity rates hurt . . . but they are necessary

Times change, and things we could afford to do yesterday are no longer affordable today, nor should they be. Perhaps we should not be ‘enjoying’ deep discounts for products shipped from countries that don’t incorporate fair labour, transportation and energy costs and disregard impacts on the environment. We should not be throwing away things that can be recycled. We should not be driving energy hogs and using our cars when good mass transportation options are available. And we should not be paying for energy without regard to the impact on our environment. These are all things we considered normal years ago — but not today.

We all get the fact that high electricity prices hurt. They hurt consumers, especially low-income earners. They hurt businesses who will locate elsewhere if energy costs are too high. But higher energy prices will encourage people to use less. And that is a good thing, especially if you believe in climate change, which most scientists do.

There are many ways to address the negative impact of high electricity rates. Low-income subsidies and economic and tax incentive programs for businesses are proven ways to help those hurt most by energy prices.

Investing in renewable energy: medium-term pain for long-term gain
We need to move the discussion beyond rates and address the real energy problems like environmental impact, reliable supply, system resilience and flexibility, and energy use. This will come through the general public’s increased awareness and knowledge of energy systems. The Ontario government’s new webpage, emPOWERme, is a start.

The world of low energy prices is gone — at least until we find a cheap, clean source of energy. And that will never happen unless we invest in renewable energy development, which costs money and necessitates higher rates. Making the transition to renewable energy won’t be easy, and it means medium-term pain for long-term gain. Economists, scientists, energy professionals and the media won`t get us there. It will take the resolve and vision of strong leaders . . . and that means more politics.