What’s wrong with the Green Energy Act?

The Opinion piece in last week’s Independent leads off with numbers from a Fraser Institute study. It is a little surprising to see so conservative an organization arguing vigorously against a program that so generously subsidizes business and one which is so determined to encourage green energy projects in the private sector at public expense. But Mr. Morgan’s libertarian leanings are offended by the creation of companies whose profits are entirely derived from public subsidy. The Woolwich Bio-en plant that now seems unstoppable for North Elmira is a particularly egregious example of what is wrong with the current Green Energy Act. None of its neighbours want the plant, and there is a good argument to be made that it is very bad for Elmira. The twenty year guaranteed, inflation indexed price for a plant such is this is 16c per KW hour under the current tariff of fees and more under the previous contract, which applies to Woolwich Bio-En. So we as tax payers are required, in the name of a greener environment, to pay for the building of a plant we don’t want in our midst and whose total impact on the environment will probably be negative. Isn’t that called a boondoggle?

We neighbours were persuaded to restrain our protest because we were told that a more suitable location was under active negotiation. We can never know the truth of that, but what we do know is that our concerns about off-site trucking were ignored. It turns out that the Director was specifically charged under the Green Energy Act not to take off-site vehicular traffic into account when coming to a decision. Apart from building and decommissioning, trucks are not a part of solar energy, nor of wind, nuclear, natural gas, hydroelectric, geo-thermal power, nor on-farm biomass power. For these types of energy, the restriction makes some sense. However, this plant cannot operate without a steady stream of trucked-in garbage. It is a travesty to ignore that fact. To move a ton of waste from London would use about as much energy as could be produced from the biomass, not to mention the damage caused by traffic congestion and the heavy toll of carbon emissions involved in both the transport and the decomposition of the garbage. Nor does it take into account the environmental costs of moving half the bulk of the waste off site again. This is green? To be paying millions of tax dollars for this expensive electricity cannot make sense to anyone except the company.

One might be sceptical of some of the figures listed in Mr. Morgan’s article. For example, 0.5 percent of British power demand supplied by wind is almost certainly too low. But even if truly green technologies can account for a significant percentage of power demand – for example, wind energy now supplies 28% of stationary grid electrical production in Denmark – it is the other part of the equation that needs our attention. To tell Woolwich Bio-En that it can use up as much energy as it likes off-site, and to pay no attention to the total of its carbon emissions so long as it is meticulously careful about odour and noise on-site, is immoral. Since the company will pay none of the incoming transportation costs, there is no incentive for it to pay attention to energy use; the REA specifically permits the company to operate throughout North America. Looked at in this way, far from being green, Woolwich Bio-en becomes emblematic of much of what is wrong with the terribly dangerous energy game we are now playing. We should protest this plant vigorously, not because we are NIMBYs, but because we care about the future for our planet.

That being said, our protests to date have not been entirely in vain. The Renewable Energy Approval that was given for this plant is almost certainly more restricting than it would have been without public intervention. The odour and noise impingement restrictions on the company are extremely narrow and it will just take one failure of the bio-filter to shut the plant down. We should all be vigilant and report infractions.

The Bio-Fuels Citizens Committee appeal group has retained the services of Eric K. Gillespie, who is one of the leading environmental lawyers in Ontario. He lived for five years at the corner of Snyder and Church in Elmira. The BFCC has retained the expert services of RWDI, a renowned Guelph company that specializes in environmental engineering and assessment. The appeal will now go, in mid June, to mediation under a single mediator who is known as an experienced and committed environmentalist. The Committee is optimistic that it will win significant improvements to the way in which the plant will operate in our community. Now is the time to speak out and come to the aid of the Committee in its efforts through mediation and, if necessary, in the continuation of the hearing, the object of which will be to repeal the REA, and therefore stop construction of the plant.

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