The Ford government is seeking to deprioritize renewable energy, repealing measures that made it easier to build new green power projects.
The proposed changes were embedded in Bill 276, which the government introduced earlier this month, saying it would “help businesses rebound” from the economic fallout of COVID-19. In a posting to Ontario’s environmental registry, the province said it’s “no longer appropriate” to prioritize clean energy because “Ontario has built a clean energy supply.”
Under the current rules, Ontario’s electricity regulator, the Ontario Energy Board, must consider the promotion of renewable energy when it decides whether an electricity transmission project is in the public interest. If passed, Bill 276 would do away with that requirement.
“I mean, are they living under a rock?” said Ontario NDP environment critic Sandy Shaw in a phone interview.
“I don't think anyone thinks that's a solved issue.”
The legislation would also eliminate rules that give clean energy projects a priority timeline for getting connected to the grid.
Alex Puddifant, a spokesperson for Ontario Energy Minister Greg Rickford, said in an email Monday that the province’s electricity grid is mostly emissions-free.
“Prioritizing renewable generation connection creates unnecessary costs for Ontario’s electricity system and will burden system planning,” he said.
“This proposed change will ensure our energy system will continue to balance value for taxpayers, system reliability and environmental impact.”
The Ontario government has proposed repealing measures that made it easier to build new renewable energy projects. Critics say the changes would be a significant step backwards. #onpoli #RenewableEnergy
In 2018, about 96 per cent of Ontario’s power came from zero-carbon sources. Nearly two-thirds was from nuclear energy and 26 per cent came from hydroelectricity, with wind and solar making up seven and two per cent, respectively.
However, carbon emissions from Ontario’s energy sector are poised to triple over the next decade as nuclear stations go offline for refurbishment. The Ford government plans to use natural gas to make up the gap and has spent nearly $3 billion to purchase gas plants from TC Energy.
The Progressive Conservative government has also spent $231 million to cancel over 750 renewable energy projects. “If I could tear up every wind turbine in this province, I would," said Premier Doug Ford, who campaigned on promises to lower electricity bills, in late 2019.
Critics say bill is a step backwards
Jack Gibbons, chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, said the proposed changes are “economically and environmentally irrational.” Though wind and solar power used to be relatively expensive, costs have gone down so much in recent years that they’re now cheaper than natural gas, he said.
“Things have changed so much because of huge technological progress,” Gibbons said.
“If Doug Ford really wanted to keep his promise to reduce electricity bills by 12 per cent, he would be investing in wind and solar.”
Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the Ford government has repeatedly used economic recovery-related bills to dismantle environmental protections. This set of changes doesn’t make sense, he added.
“It's almost as if they're saying climate action through electricity generation is no longer in the public interest,” Schreiner said.
“It just shows how they're putting ideology ahead of good science and sound economics.”
Ontario Liberal environment critic Lucille Collard said the proposal is “another example of the government’s tendency to sacrifice the environment in favour of polluters.”
“If something is working to benefit our environment, why would we go backwards?” she said in a statement. “Emissions are still dangerously high and we should always be striving to do more, not less, to protect our planet.”
Puddifant didn’t answer questions about how the proposed changes would mesh with Ontario’s climate goals.
Last year, Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk found the province is at risk of missing its climate targets, in part because the issue didn’t appear to be a cross-government priority.