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While backing away from keeping up some of the sweetheart power contracts given to renewable energy companies in the early days of the green energy revolution following 2009, Wynne and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli have doubled down on wind and solar, saying the (slightly modified and less generous) Feed-in-Tariff program will continue on their watch.
But green energy continues to divide Ontario’s environmental, conservation and rural communities who are increasingly torn between supporting an energy source that emits no greenhouse gases, generates no hazardous waste and guzzles no freshwater with one that some claim causes serious human health effects and, when improperly sited, can run the risk of destroying already stressed habitats of endangered species.
Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal also made history in rejecting a renewable energy approval for a 22 megawatt wind project at Ostrander Point in July 2013, a first in the province, on the grounds it would negatively impact an endangered turtle. The issue continues to wind its way through the courts.
The government’s decision to support the estimated $25 billion refurbishment of nuclear units at the Bruce and Darlington sites may give some environmentalists pause, as would the trials held last summer by the National Energy Board to determine if underground caverns on the shores of Lake Huron are the best location to house radioactive nuclear waste materials essentially forever.
Environmental activists also stormed Queen’s Park in March this year when the NEB approved Enbridge’s reversal of the Line 9 pipeline to ship 300,000 barrels of oil each day from Sarnia to Montreal via aging pipelines that cross rivers and creeks feeding into Lake Ontario, the drinking water source for millions of Ontarians.
Those activists demanded the province conduct its own environmental assessment of the pipeline, but Wynne’s government refused. They opted instead to conduct public consultations on another pipeline proposal, TransCanada’s Energy East project stretching more than 2,000 kilometres across Ontario’s north to carry Alberta crude to refineries in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
Can Wynne’s minority government claim success on the environment file? They likely wouldn’t, even if they could. It’s tough to say what impact some of their legislation on the Great Lakes or invasive species might have had, for example; but having never become law, they’re nothing but good intentions, so their net effect on the environment is zero. The Grits decision to support the ELA when it was abandoned by the federal Conservatives was good policy in support of good science, and for $2 million a year it was a steal.
But government claims that “modernizing” the MNR permitting process is not simply about saving money and making it easier for industry, and that it will not result in significant impacts on endangered species or their habitat is bunk.
Moreover, decisions to go ahead with costly nuclear refurbs while attempting to reaffirm their support for electricity conservation is contradictory. And doubling down on nuclear and green energy at a time when electricity demand is dropping will polarize voters with strong views on both contentious topics.
Not since 2007 has the environment been a factor in how a small percentage of the electorate across North America has voted, and the 2014 Ontario general election will likely be no different, especially as the Liberal’s spring budget—which will likely serve as their de facto election platform—contained nothing substantial on the environment.
It’s not surprising. The combined budgets of these two ministries dropped 64 per cent since 1992/1993 when they received 2.15 per cent of the total provincial budget, the environmental commissioner wrote in his 2010/2011 annual report. By 2010, that figure had fallen to 0.76 per cent, leaving MNR and MOE as the two most poorly funded ministries in the Ontario government.
Want a reality check on the state of environmental consciousness in Ontario? Consider this: no news in the budget on the environment may be good news, however, when sources inside the Ministry of the Environment tell me that after years of budget cutbacks at MOE and MNR, a penny retained is a penny earned.
And there are substantially fewer of those pennies now than there were a decade ago.