Bill 150, the Green Energy and Green Economy Act, received third reading in the Ontario legislature yesterday. For a statute that will make such fundamental changes in Ontario’s energy policy, this was a stunningly quick transformation from “an intriguing idea” last September to law in less than nine months. The GEA is intended to make Ontario a world leader in greening the energy and the economy. It proposes to double renewable power generation by 2015, create thousands of “green” jobs, and to cut the red tape surrounding new alternative energy projects.
- Key consequences of the new law will include:Cleaner air and a smaller carbon footprint.
- Incentives for energy conservation. This includes energy audits on the sale of buildings, including homes, and energy performance certificates for public places. Buildings contribute more than 30% of our total carbon emissions, and continue to do so for a very long time. New North America buildings are still being built as energy hogs compared to those in other places, such as Europe. Home buyers will be able to waive their right to the $300 audit, in writing, for example if they are planning to make major upgrades to the home.
- Significant incentives for green electricity generation. Generators of low carbon electricity are being promised a simpler, faster (6 month) approvals regime, a right to connect to the electrical grid, and a guaranteed feed-in tariff i.e., a predictable, fixed, high price for all the electricity they can generate. The idea is to ensure that more green energy projects are built in more places as quickly as possible.
- More expensive electricity in the short run, hopefully cheaper in the long run. In the short run, we will all be paying more for renewable electricity, which still costs significantly more than burning coal. (Mostly because carbon emissions are still free – this won’t last long.) Some of this will be offset if conservation initiatives and the new sources reduce the need for very expensive peaking plants. The Ontario Energy Board will decide whether to provide “lifeline” rates, i.e. inexpensive rates for modest electrical consumers for electricity.
- Ontario will also need to invest heavily in the transmission system. Hydro One estimates that transmission and distribution improvements will cost up to $10 billion – this includes making the current “dumb skinny” grid smart; adapting lines and substations for two-way traffic and building new lines.
- Construction of major new transmission lines, which will be bound to cross some sensitive areas. Ontario has not built any major new transmission corridors since the Environmental Assessment Act was adopted, but we need them badly if we are to rely heavily on renewable electricity. Most of the green electricity generation options are located far from the GTA, the major load centre. The Minister of Energy will have more power to give directives to expand energy transmission and distribution systems.
- Wind farms in possibly unpopular places. Wind farms and other renewable energy generation sites will need renewable energy approvals from the Ministry of the Environment, but will be exempt from most other land-use planning controls, including all municipal controls.
- More community electricity generation cooperatives, for community groups and First Nations.
- Court challenges based on common-law rights: For example, the law of nuisance is based on traditional forms of land-use; it is not clear how these rights will play out in this new vision of a society built on green energy.
By freeing Ontarians from reliance on coal-fired electricity plants and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutions, the GEA should result in cleaner air and better health – maybe fewer “smog alerts” during the long, hot summers even though climate change will worsen summer heat and smog. It should also help Ontario prepare for the impact of pricing carbon, and attract investments in green energy. But there is no doubt about it – this is an important new Act that will cause wrenching changes. It’s meant to have a major impact on how we generate and use energy, and it’s likely to do it.