Saba Ahmad is a Litigator working on environmental, administrative and commercial matters in Toronto. Learn more at www.sabaahmad.com
George Smitherman and Peter Tabuns presented provocative views on energy policy in Ontario at a panel discussion hosted by the Climate Change Lawyers Network on Monday evening at WeirFoulds LLP.They discussed a host of issues, from investment in nuclear power, to the cancellation of gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga, to public versus private ownership of Ontario’s energy infrastructure.
Mr. Smitherman prefaced his views with a qualification: as a former MPP and Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, he did not speak for the Liberal Party. The self-described pundit offered his own, private opinions, and at one point, he requested the same of Mr. Tabuns. With a laugh, Mr. Tabuns firmly rejected the offer to go off-the-record.
The two professed admiration for one another’s work, while Mr. Smitherman took the opportunity to criticize the pro-nuclear views of MPP Vic Fidelli, who had previously cancelled his appearance at the event due to a scheduling conflict. Twice during the evening, Smitherman said he had one tough question for the Conservative MPP: What price would you put on nuclear power? In other words, would nuclear power cost consumers more than wind? Smitherman implied the high price required to recoup investment in new nuclear projects would reveal them as less attractive investments than wind power projects.
Mr. Tabuns was also cynical about nuclear power. He stated there was no business case for refurbishing the Darlington nuclear facility and it was irresponsible to have invested $600 million already when we do not know the final cost of the project or its cost effectiveness. Per dollar, conservation and efficiency would yield better results, along with investment in renewable energy sources.
The two speakers’ views diverged on models of public versus private ownership. Mr. Tabuns promoted public ownership of energy infrastructure. Citing the Bruce Power nuclear facility and gas-fired plants, he stated privatization costs Ontario $1 billion per year. He said public ownership mobilizes political support needed to promote investment in green energy.
Mr. Smitherman was skeptical about models of public ownership. “I’m not responsible to employ the Power Workers Union,” he said. He applauded Ontario’s Feed In Tariff (“FIT”) program for allowing anybody to be an electricity generator. As in Denmark, he said, Ontario should promote community involvement, so that not only “big players” get all the funding. Further, he argued under FIT, participants bear the responsibility to bring their projects in on time and on budget, so that overruns are not “piled up” as long-term-debt for the people of Ontario.
Both speakers shared provocative observations about business-as-usual.
Mr. Tabuns stated the nuclear question is a “fight over interests.” He stated the facts are known. The direction Ontario takes with new energy infrastructure does not turn on technical or economic issues being resolved. He stated the people making money from business-as-usual are not going to give that money up easily and it will take political will to make Ontario’s energy supply renewable.
Mr. Smitherman added “I’m not normally a conspiracy theorist”, but some planners might be afraid when urbanites go off the grid. Our current system is based on the premise that everyone must share in the costs of energy generation, but that model “falls apart” when fewer people share in the benefits.
Both gentlemen observed changing the direction of Ontario’s energy future in favour of renewable sources will not come easy.