By THEO VAN DE KLETERSTEEG
Electricity derived from wind and solar resources may well have become the “holy grail” to environmentalists, but are wind and solar the answers we have been praying for? Probably not, at least not given their high cost in today’s cost-conscious competitive world. Twenty years ago, numerous forecasters were predicting that the majority of new automobiles sold in North America by today would be powered by fuel cells. In reality, not a single automobile manufactured on an assembly line anywhere is equipped with fuel cell propulsion. It wasn’t because fuel cells were a bad idea, or because they were insufficiently reliable. It was simply a matter of cost. Fuel cell manufacturers were unable to substitute lower-cost materials or lower-cost designs for the existing designs that worked flawlessly, but were so expensive that the automotive market they had primarily been designed for never materialized.
And so it is with wind, solar and other “alternative” sources of energy. With few exceptions, such power sources are only viable because of the support they receive through taxpayer-funded government initiatives. But are we, as taxpayers, well served by subsidizing forms of energy that are far more costly than conventional sources? Sure, we know all the conventional arguments: “green” power reduces or substantially eliminates greenhouse gas emissions, and we must make every possible effort to reduce such emissions to make the world a more liveable place.
Chief among my resistance to most forms of “alternative” energy is that widespread implementation of these high-cost technologies would undermine our economy. With tens of millions of people unemployed or underemployed in North America, do we really need technologies that make our businesses less competitive, and pull more money out of our wallets? I think not.
Focusing for a moment on Ontario: this province has borne the brunt of recent economic misfortunes in Canada, and after many decades of being the powerhouse of the Canadian economy, has now gained “have-not” status. In terms of power production, Ontario has decided to put an end to burning coal to generate electricity, a move that was welcomed by most of its citizens. Partly to replace this dirty source of electricity with clean sources, and partly motivated by a desire to build an alternative energy industry in Ontario, the government of Ontario embarked on an aggressive program to support and encourage the adoption of “green” technologies.
Has this worked, or is it likely to work? Perhaps. However, I have heard many Ontarians complain about high power rates for some time – this is good for producers, but not so good for consumers. Moreover, I recently learned about a massive mineral resource-related project that, until recently, had been considered as a “natural” investment for Ontario, until the promoter discovered that the cost of the abundant electricity it needed was substantially lower in British Columbia or Quebec. At this time, it’s unclear where the plant will be situated, but what is clear is that the cost of electricity is an important factor in the process of deciding where new manufacturing plants will be located. What exactly is the economic impact of government policies that result in higher cost electricity?
Would Ontario not be better served by focusing on nuclear power instead? Ontario is the home of Canada’s CANDU reactor design, and tens of thousands are employed in Ontario by its nuclear industry. Ontario already derives 60 per cent of its electricity production from nuclear plants, and it is virtually impossible to think that Ontario could ever reduce its reliance on nuclear in any meaningful way. If it ever found a way to do so, presumably the cost of electricity would be even greater than it is today. Nuclear power is the lowest cost power source, and does not release any greenhouse gases. Moreover, it is a high-technology industry that has exported safe and reliable reactors to six countries. On the other hand, it is undeniable that disposal of waste material and the risk of accident are issues that continue to have a negative perception in the minds of the public.
It is a good thing that Ontario will soon be abandoning coal as a fuel to generate electricity. There needs to be a debate about the possible sources of fuel to power its future, and their impacts on the economy, the environment and the social fabric of Ontario. Because, ultimately, it all comes down to how the management of the economy will impact the citizens of Ontario.
The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Great White Publications Inc.