Op Ed: The shift to renewable energy is easy on the pocketbook

04 Nov 2016 9:54 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Originally published in The Waterloo Record and The Hamilton Spectator

- By Doris Grinspun, Peter Robinson, David Cork

We just weathered one of the hottest summers on record in Ontario. We're not alone: Around the world, temperature records are being set and broken like it was an Olympic event. Storms get more severe, people wade through streets flooded chest-deep in water, and wildfires consume huge areas left bone-dry by 100-year droughts that now seem to be annual events.

We know we can't simply ignore what climate change is doing to our planet. But we have left the problem unchecked for so long that we now need ambitious solutions that can sometimes feel out of reach.

But despite the perception that change will be difficult, solutions like shifting to 100-per-cent clean renewable energy are actually well within our grasp. In fact, more than 1,000 jurisdictions around the world have already committed to going 100-per-cent renewable by 2050, including the City of Vancouver. In 2016, wind power alone provided enough energy to meet 97 per cent of Scottish household electricity needs. In Canada, the power supplied by renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass, grew six-fold in the last decade. Progress is happening faster than we think.

A report just out from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) projects that wind will meet 35 per cent of U.S. electricity needs by 2050. Here in Ontario, wind has gone from zero to close to 4,000 megawatts of power over less than a decade, the equivalent of replacing the Lakeview coal station that once cast a dark shadow across Toronto's waterfront.

Worldwide, there is a very bright future for solar, thanks to costs falling by more than two-thirds over the last decade and continuing to fall. Again, the DOE sees solar playing a huge role in the United States, supplying close to a third of U.S. electricity by 2050. Bloomberg New Energy Finance explains why: "The rapid uptake of renewable generation in the power system, [is] unstoppable now because of cost reductions in wind and solar."

Here in Ontario, we have only been seriously pursuing renewable energy (other than water power) since 2009. Over that short period, wind power prices in Ontario have dropped to the point where they are now fully competitive with nuclear power, if not cheaper. Solar, despite the outdated public perception that it is high cost, is actually dropping ever closer to being a highly competitive source of power in Ontario. That moment isn't in the distant future — it is just three to four years away at most.

But if we want to get to that 100-per-cent renewable future and reach our targets for reducing damaging greenhouse gas emissions, we are going to need a plan. In Ontario, we have something called the Long Term Energy Plan, which is currently being reviewed. Unfortunately, Ontario's current plan is weak on recognizing how fast technology and systems are changing and long on maintaining the status quo. That means sticking with hugely expensive plans to rebuild 10 aging nuclear reactors and keeping North America's fourth-oldest nuclear plant — the Pickering Nuclear Station, which happens to be surrounded by two million people — operating for another decade.

Every nuclear project in Ontario's history has gone massively over budget. It is optimistically estimated that rebuilding 10 reactors will cost $25 billion. But, of course, opening up 30- or 40-year-old reactors and replacing miles of radioactive tubing and a slew of other complex components often leads to nasty surprises. It is very likely that these projects will conform to the megaproject pattern of going dramatically over budget.

Compare that to the simplicity of a solar panel or wind turbine. These off-the-shelf solutions are the future because they are simple to manufacture and fast to deploy, and don't carry the radioactive baggage and risks of giant nuclear plants. They also won't leave us with a massive debt, as Ontario's previous nuclear projects did to the tune of close to $20 billion.

In fact, nuclear is one of our most cumbersome climate change responses, which is why it is quickly being left in the dust by renewable sources worldwide. Ontario Power Generation just asked for the price it is paid for nuclear power to be raised by 180 per cent in the next 10 years. That means that as solar and wind power prices continue to plunge, nuclear prices will increase to more than three times their current level. Nuclear energy is a dead end for our economy and a dead weight on our pocketbooks.

Ontario has been a leader in deploying green energy and has seen many benefits — from manufacturing jobs to creating a source of new income for everyone from farmers to schools. Instead of trying to stop the green energy revolution, we need to embrace it. The future is 100-per-cent renewable and we need to be a part of it.

Doris Grinspun is CEO of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario. Peter Robinson is CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation. David Cork is Director of the Federation of Community Power Co-ops.

For more info, visit 100REontario.org

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