The much-anticipated Ontario Power Authority (OPA)'s recommendations for how the province will meet its energy needs in the future is finally out. Since this is the holiday season, the Liberals have followed the tradition of releasing controversial reports to the paying public close to Christmas.


With 25,000 MW of the province's peak capacity of 32,000 MW targeted for phase-out, burn-out or shut-down over the next 20 to 30 years,  the report is recommending a $ 35 billion investment in new nuclear power plants. Depending on your perspective, this news is either naughty or nice.


Municipal officials in the Clarington area (home of the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station) will no doubt consider the expansion of nuclear a nice bit of holiday cheer. Clarington Council is still smarting after losing its bid to host the controversial $ 18 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project. To help ensure that it doesn't miss the nuclear gravy train this time, Clarington Council formally announced that the municipality ~ or at least council members ~ would be a willing host to Darlington B, two new 700 MW reactors adjacent to the existing plant. Hot on their heels, Durham Regional Council passed a unanimous resolution also welcoming a new Darlington plant.


For those who would prefer to not fall back into a system reliant on nuclear power, the news is both naughty and unnecessary. According to a new report released last week by the Pembina Institute and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), by failing to aggressively work toward improving energy efficiency in the province, the government is placing Ontario's environment and economic prosperity at serious risk.


"Towards a Sustainable Electricity System for Ontario? A Provincial Progress Report", evaluates Ontario's progress in three key areas ~ energy efficiency, renewable energy supply and replacing coal-fire generation ~ and finds the province's efforts wanting.  Despite the appointment of Ontario's first Chief Energy Conservation Officer, one only needs to follow the money to see that the province doesn't have the courage of its so-called conservation convictions.


"The province has committed $10.5 billion on electricity supply compared to approximately $163 million on conservation and demand management ~ a ratio of commitments of 64:1," said Mark Winfield, Ph.D., Director Environmental Governance for The Pembina Institute. Despite all the hype about conservation, clearly the province is paying lip service to the idea of fully integrating conservation as a reliable part of its energy mix.


 "Other jurisdictions have demonstrated major reductions in demand as a result of aggressive efficiency programs," said Winfield. "California and Vermont have stopped load growth by investing in conservation programs." By some estimates, these programs have been so successful that they may soon start replacing existing generation.


These programs worked because they were legislated, not because politicians said that conservation was a good idea. In Vermont's case, Efficiency Vermont was mandated by government order, much like Ontario will mandate what our future energy mix will be.


According to Pembina and CELA, that mix doesn't have to include coal or nuclear. In their joint 2004 report, "Power for the Future", Pembina/CELA estimated that aggressive conservation efforts combined with rapid but feasible investments in renewable energy would make the phase-out of coal and nuclear feasible.  These are very smart people who have dedicated their professional lives to sustainable, innovative solutions. So why isn't our government paying attention?


Sadly, this would take some vision and a whole lot of courage, because being a visionary isn't necessarily politically expedient. What is expedient is the same old solutions which will pretty much leave us where we already are: seriously in debt and heavily invested in large scale, centralized generation, forced into a never ending cycle of selling electricity ~ rather than the services that electricity provides ~ so we can to pay off that large scale debt.


Courage and vision are qualities that seem destined to be mutually exclusive of being elected to make these decisions. We have great examples of how we can create a sustainable energy future. It's up to us to demand that our leaders do what's right, rather than what's politically expedient.




"Towards a Sustainable Electricity System for Ontario? A Provincial Progress Report" and "Power for the Future" are both available at The Pembina Institute and Canadian Environmental Law Association


Efficiency works. Check out Efficiency Vermont