You’ve likely read by now that in the federal budget, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty didn’t include $538million in funds that were promised for Ontario to help offset its costs fighting global warming.
The issue is a complicated matrix that goes something like this:
1) Premier Dalton McGuinty promised voters in the next election that he’d close Ontario’s coal-fired power plants in order to help clean up the airshed in that province. This idea stemmed from a report issued by doctor’s that many deaths occur each year because of fine particulates in the atmosphere. (As an aside, I’ve always been a bit suspicious of that data. I imagine that most of the deaths are among elderly and infirm people who would have died a few days later in any case, and the doctor’s count them as smog-related because they take place on high smog days. I have no proof of this, but it’s an educated guess.)
2) Once in power, the provincial Liberals find themselves in a bit of a pickle with this promise, because Ontario needs more power generation, not less, and the grid can’t afford the shutting down of the coal-fired plants at this time. Wind and solar just won’t provide enough electricity in the foreseeable future. The shut down of most of the plants is delayed.
3) The power worker’s union argues that clean coal technology would be the most affordable way to power the province. Further filters and scrubbers could make the coal-fired plants virtually non-polluting. Everyone agrees, however, that even if the Ontario plants are shut down, particulates will still migrate up here from Ohio and other states that have many coal-fired plants. Little difference will be made, especially since most of the smog-type pollution comes from cars, which is why closure of the Lakeview power plant upwind of Toronto made almost no impact on that city’s smog.
4) However, in the intervening years, evidence grows that man-made global warming is real, and the effects are especially noticeable in Canada’s Arctic. Even if the government scrubs every last bit of aerosol/particulate out of the coal-fired emissions, CO2 will still be generated which, if you believe global warming is real, is the worst problem of all. So now the government has an even better reason to shut down the plants.
5) Solar and wind power are highly inefficient, and other alternative energy systems are decades away from widespread application. The province can do a bit better in terms of energy efficiency, but nothing will cause people toi be energy efficient as much as high energy prices. Since these have risen with the price of oil and electricity, the market is doing more than any government PR program.
6) Faced with no other realistic choice, the Liberals decide to invest in nuclear power. The technology is much improved since decades ago when Darlington and other reactors went way over budget. (Canadian plants in China have recently been built on time and on budget.) The nukes are also the safest technology according to objective studies. (I am serious.) So the LIberals — correctly if you think global warming is real — decide on nuclear power because it allows them to shut down the coal-fired plants and achieve massive CO2 reductions, and so fight global warming.
7) However, the government is disappointed that the feds reneg on earlier primises to help offset the cost of doing all this.
In conclusion, I have come around to agreeing that Ontario’s Liberals are making the correct decision in going with nuclear power. Read my earlier blog entry about James Lovelock’s book to learn more as to why. My main concern is this, however: I don’t want to see a repeat of the Ontairo Hydro fiasco in which a fairly unaccountable crown corporation built plants over budget and stuck taxpayers with tens of millions of dollars in “stranded debt.” We need to devise a competitive market in which private companies bid on the opportunity to build and operate the plants, with strict performance guarantees and stiff penalities for cost overruns. In other words, government steers, the private sector rows.
I know that the environmentalists are going to hate me for supporting nuclear power, but they sort of brought it on themselves fighting everything else. I plan to join the Association of Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, not only because I’m coming over to that way of thinking, but because it’ll irritate the hell out some environmentalists whose views I oppose in this and other areas. I feel the need to join something, so maybe this is it. I’ll let you know how it works out in this space in future.