Ontario’s Auditor General, Jim McCarter, released his Annual Report to the legislature earlier this morning, and the 460-page document has some troubling findings about the hasty way in which Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty approved green energy investments in his second term.
“While this helped these projects get off the ground quickly, their high cost will add significantly to ratepayers’ electricity bills in the future,” McCarter told the Toronto Star. He found that billions in investments spent on solar and wind energy in rural parts of the province were approved without appropriate levels of oversight, including “regulatory and planning procedures.”
McCarter also believes that one of the key achievements McGuinty touted to get the Liberals re-elected on October 6 – that the Green Energy Act has created over 50,000 jobs – is misleading, to be polite. Upwards of 30,000 of those jobs were in temporary construction work the report indicates, failing to provide the significant boost to the Ontario manufacturing economy that was the cornerstone of the plan.
The Premier was able to sell the Green Energy Act as bad-tasting medicine that people may not like, but not only would it benefit the environment, but create jobs in the process. And while the AG doesn’t dispute that jobs have been created, the province has been misled in terms of the nature of those jobs.
McCarter also argued in his Annual Report that the subsidies paid to producers of green energy through the microFIT program, the feed-in-tariff program that allows residences and small businesses to be paid higher rates for producing clan energy, will likely add upwards of $220M annually to hydro bills.
I still believe in the importance of the Green Energy Act and the path it has set Ontario on, however imperfect the framework and hasty the implementation of the plan. It has realized that the future for Ontario’s manufacturing sector and the improvement of our environment starts and ends with the green energy sector and the use of renewable power. Ontario is the only region of significant size in North America, and McGuinty the only Premier with enough foresight and chutzpah to consider implementing it in the first place. And good on him for doing it over opposition objections, which will only be strengthened now by the McCarter report.
Sean Moore, the CEO of Tecumseh solar panel manufacturer Unconquered Sun, spoke with the Windsor Star and indicated that the jobs created and the environmental benefits will be worth the strain over the long term.
“I believe the report is probably short-sighted, based on short-sighted economics and really, if we want a sustainable manufacturing base for Windsor-Essex that’s going to be around in the next 100 years it’s the manufacturing of renewable fuels,” said Moore.
The microFIT program is up for its annual two-year review at the moment anyway, so perhaps this is a perfect opportunity for the McGuinty Liberals to take a deeper look at inefficiencies in the program, and how better to improve the Green Energy Act overall.
And what’s more, the Premier would also do well to make another effort at explaining to Ontarians just what the Green Energy Act is, and why it is so critical to his government that he would be willing to perform such egregious acts of oversight in order to see it succeed.
Ontarians may not understand the gravity of the global warming situation, nor the potential impacts to be gained from making the switch to making and using renewable energy and its infrastructure. But it can be explained to them, and it should. Because if no one has ever told them why this is important, why this is good, and why they should care, how can they be blamed for being upset?
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POSTSCRIPT 12/6/11: In the day since the release of the Auditor General’s report, numerous sources have investigated McCarter’s claim that jobs in the renewables sector killed jobs in other sectors of the economy by a ration of 2:1.
Environmental Defence has linked his comments back to a widely discredited report from the American Enterprise Institute that claims “a 2009 study conducted in Spain found that for each job created through renewable energy programs, about two jobs were lost in other sectors of the economy.”
AEI is funded by Exxon-Mobil and the Koch brothers, and their study has been roundly discredited since. As ED points outm it has been reduced to the kind of report FOX News utilizes to spread disinformation about climate change.
I share Environmental Defence’s concern and disappointment in the Auditor General’s choice of including such questionable data in his study.