How the Liberal Government is Making Ontario Clean and Green for Future Generations
With so much worrying talk about climate change and environmental degradation, it is not surprising that many people have forgotten what successive Liberal governments have done to make Ontario more environmentally and economically sustainable. The truth is that Ontario is one of the world’s largest per capita Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emitters. The onus is on us to do much better. The Liberal government has been trying very hard in various ways to reduce GHG emissions and move Ontario forward on renewable energy sources through the Green Energy Act. These steps are necessary to keep human impacts on our earth within safe limits. We can see the results already. Remember back in 2005 Ontario had 15 smog advisories covering 53 days. Today the number of smog advisories has dropped to almost zero. Our government knows more needs to be done and some initiatives could have been handled differently. We also know that a Conservative government would stop initiatives like cap and trade on carbon emissions and the FIT Tariff program because Doug Ford said so. So here is a quick summary of three important environmental initiatives the Liberal government has put in place that could be undone if the Conservatives win this election.
No More Coal – There is no such thing as “clean coal”, that’s why we have closed all of Ontario’s coal-fired power generation plants. Coal went from 25% of Ontario’s supply mix in 2003 to zero in 2014. Ontario’s phase out of coal is still counted as the single largest initiative to reduce Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) in North America. The story of Ontario’s shift from polluting fossil fuels to clean renewables has been twisted by conservative-leaning media. They only talk about scandals and high electricity bills, but they do not mention the fact that coal-fired plants burdened Ontario with an estimated $4.4 billion in annual health and environmental costs. With the United States backpedaling on coal, would not the Conservatives blindly follow?
The FIT Program – Ontario’s Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program was launched in 2009 to quickly encourage production of renewable wind, solar, hydro and biomass energy to replace coal-powered electricity. According to the Ministry of Energy, the Green Energy Act and the FIT program have created more than 20,000 jobs in the renewable energy industry. The program has resulted in more than $20 billion of private-sector investment in the province and now supplies enough renewable electricity to power roughly 1.8 million homes. Initially the program was criticized when the government entered into contracts that were too generous to green energy producers which contributed to higher electricity rates. Consequently, the tariffs paid were reduced and electricity rates are now lower. In Kingston we see clean energy being created whenever we look out at the Wolfe Island Wind Farm. Who would have imagined 10 years ago that Kingston and the Islands would be generating 594 gigawatt-hours (GW·h) of clean, renewable power annually to supply about 75,000 homes. That is the impact of the FIT program?
Cap and Trade – The provincial government’s cap-and-trade program began on Jan. 1, 2017. This program places a cost on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that Ontario homes and businesses emit. Ontario’s cap and trade program is a market-based system that sets a hard cap (or limit) on these emissions while giving flexibility to businesses and industry in terms of how they meet their caps by trading (buy or sell) allowances. The program gradually lowers GHG emissions from our biggest polluters. This gives us cleaner air and helps reduce the devastating impacts of climate change caused by extreme weather events. Putting a price on carbon encourages companies and consumers to make better choices for the environment. It gives polluters an incentive to cut emissions – if you pollute less, you pay less. This system is complex to understand, and currently only three jurisdictions in North America – California, Ontario and Quebec have signed an agreement to participate in annual cap and trade auctions. Ontario auctions greenhouse gas allowances four times a year. For the fiscal year 2017-2018 the four Cap and Trade auctions generated $2.4 Billion for Ontario, a fact that has been ignored in the media. Ontario will invest these proceeds into programs like the GreenON Rebates that save homeowners energy and money. Critics have said Ontario should have simply placed a Carbon Tax on polluters like British Columbia has. Yes, carbon pricing is important in the fight against climate change, but a carbon price alone isn’t enough. British Columbia has the highest carbon tax in North America at $30/tonne. But even at that level, emissions are rising in B.C., not falling, and the province now admits they will miss their 2020 GHG emissions targets. Regardless, Doug Ford does not support a Carbon Tax, and this position will create a funding hole.
Ontario has made huge strides over the past 15 years in reducing harmful Greenhouse Gas emissions. We no longer depend on coal to generate electricity and now increasingly rely on clean, renewable energy kick-started by the FIT Tariff. Cap and Trade is providing the funding to transition to a cleaner and greener future. That is our record. Don’t let the Conservatives reverse our work and gamble away our children’s future by ignoring the impacts of pollution and climate change.