I just read some statistics that shatter any argument that Canada’s reliance on oil and gas is more economical or efficient than the solar economy and Ontario’s feed-in tariff (FIT) program, which some derisively label a “subsidy.”
The FIT program pays producers of renewable energy to tie their projects into the province’s power grid. One of the program’s goals is to help phase out coal-fired power generation by 2014. Its benefits include not only clean air, but also spin-offs like thousands of alternative energy jobs, as well as PV installation classes and other educational opportunities to help workers make the switch to the new solar, wind, and biofuel economies.
The FIT program, like any government incentive, has its opponents. Their main arguments generally seem to focus around hydro customers paying extravagant bills to subsidize alternative energy and worries about the program’s potential instability. Their concern on the latter point is that the Liberal government that created the program may cancel it at any time, and there’s no guarantee that the FIT would survive a change in office if the incumbent party loses next year's election.
Well, if these latest facts cannot convince the sceptic, nothing can. Canadians pay more than half of the cost for the natural gas that the Alberta oil sands turn into bitumen, which eventually becomes oil, in the forms of tax and royalty write-offs. This year, the tally for the taxpayer was $1.7 billion. As reporter and author, Mitchell Anderson asks, “what will be the collective cost to the taxpayer in the next decade for turning gas into bitumen” and “what else could we do with this money?”
Solar Subsidy Shift Would Create Jobs, Help Economy
The Alberta government projects that by 2019, the demand for natural gas to convert to bitumen will increase by more than 75% over this year’s numbers. If the taxpayer is indeed paying for more than half of these costs, then by 2020, citizens will pay what amounts to a $30 billion subsidy to oil and gas companies.
In Ontario, sceptics of alternative energy and the so-called “green shift” bemoan the Liberals’ recent cancellation of a new gas-fired plant in Oakville while it promotes the FIT and other incentives for renewable power. These naysayers will be surprised to learn that a $30 billion subsidy to the Canadian solar industry would enable it to install somewhere around 6,700 MW of additional power generation capacity and add around 180,000 alternative energy jobs to the economy. By contrast, a 2008 report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) revealed that the subsidies the oil and gas sector received resulted in relatively lower revenues for government, higher waste emissions, and fewer job opportunities than alternative energy could provide.
Meanwhile, the federal government is cancelling its ecoEnergy program. The program subsidized the alternative energy industry by adding one cent per kW-hour to hydro bills, at a total cost of $1.48 billion over fourteen years. This small investment, by energy standards, resulted in over $8 billion in investment from the private sector and the installation of 4,000 MW of production capacity.
Canada’s Solar Economy Has Untapped Potential
Canada has a lot of solar and green potential. Winnipeg and Toronto have more room to add solar energy to the economy than Tokyo or Berlin. The cost of photovoltaic power in Canada is also declining by about 10% per year, and workers from all over Ontario are enrolled in PV installation training classes such as the ones available at the country's only ISPQ-accredited PV school, Ontario Solar Academy.
If the government spent $30 billion to help the alternative energy market grow, Canada would get a leg up in an industry destined for expansion, not just in Ontario or Canada, but all over the world. Hopefully, the evidence will convince Ontarians and people everywhere that solar PV installations and other alternative energy systems are the ways of the future. They are the jobs of the future, the classes of the future, and the economies of the future.