The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission's hearing on Ontario Power Generation's plan to refurbish Darlington wrapped up earlier this month, and if the green light is given, Ontario will once again throw many billions of dollars at the nuclear industry.
Just another symptom of the province's dangerously mismanaged energy file. Here's another: Liberal leadership candidates are falling over each other to distance themselves from McGuinty's gas plant cancellation debacle and the bad relations with rural wind power foes, promising more community consultation.
All well and good. Promoting local energy policy would definitely advance the narrative, but not one of the would-be premiers has yet addressed the fact that Ontario's power system is a shambles. Not one of them has yet gone on record against a budget-busting nuclear revamp or offered a solution to residential energy bills that are among the highest on the continent despite an energy glut. And no one's lamenting the fact that in spite of the Green Energy Act, renewables still make up less than 2 per cent of all output, compared to 50 per cent for nukes.
Do leadership contenders really think they can afford to leave the energy critique in the hands of Tim Hudak?
The odd thing is that while Ontario likes to pump itself as the rising force in green energy, the province just west of us is actually way ahead. Its checklist of accomplishments is a reminder of what's been botched here.
For one thing, Ontario hasn't bothered to steal back Keith Collins, a passionate energy consultant to the Manitoba government, which retained him a few years after his Green Communities initiative was the first project cancelled by the Conservative Mike Harris government. (Collins was part of the Toronto-based Coalition for a Green Recovery in the 90s, along with Jack Layton, me and many others.)
He's part of why our neighbours across the provincial border are heading to a low-cost, job-rich, green-friendly and fossil-fuel-free future. Manitoba has the lowest energy bills in the country (about half the cost of Toronto's), is first in the country for energy efficiency and geothermal installation. Its rural population cheers for wind power; it pays cities to build cycling paths.
Geography and population size don't explain why we're eating the dust of a province with one-10th our population, blazing hot summers, freezing cold winters.
Nor does Manitoba differ from Ontario in its lack of coal, uranium, gas and oil. It does have one advantage over Ontario that it didn't earn: over two-thirds of its population lives in one city, Winnipeg, which means commuter miles are much fewer. That's tempered by the disadvantageous cold and the 500,000 plug-ins to keep car motors from freezing, plugs slated to be used for electric car recharging.
The breakthrough Manitoba officials made is to think wide and integrated. Where our government has little interest in transportation and concentrates exclusively on electricity, presumably because it only wants to focus on what it has monopoly ownership and control over, theirs addresses the whole energy field. Power to heat homes, factories, farms and offices, energy to run cars, computers and motors - it's all the same to them.
That's why Manitoba prioritizes insulation and conservation in home heating, energy-efficient furnaces and geothermal - all paid for upfront by the utility and then charged to the customer through an on-meter finance program spread over such a long period that the lifetime costs are less than savings from lower energy rates.
Any Grit contestant willing to add this to his or her policy plank?
Even more impressive, Manitoba has defanged wind power opponents through incentives - a critical lesson Ontario needs to absorb. On top of payments to farmers, rural windmill utilities pay local and school taxes. Manitoba has no rural turbine opposition. Maybe there's a classic Canadian novel there: Who Has Seen The Wind Money.
The provincial Liberals created the Green Energy Act and raised expectations that sustainable power was within our grasp. Who among their would-be standard-bearers has the courage and smarts to propose a way out of the mess they've made of it?