By Nathan Stevens
July 22, 2011
The Ontario election is looming for Ontario’s politicians and the voting public. Energy is emerging as “the” hot button topic for many voters. The big question is how we are going to organize a sustainable energy system that truly considers the economic, environmental and social consequences.
There is a need for broad deliberations regarding this province’s energy policy. In particular, balance needs to be struck to accommodate both long and short term needs in our energy policy. Ontario’s manufacturing sector was built on affordable energy, which means that minimizing shocks to the system is very important in a time where the global economy is weak. At the same time, in the long-term, diversifying our energy base and channelling resources into tomorrow’s technology is important for a sustainable future.
At the core of the Ontario energy matrix are the traditional sources of energy: coal, nuclear, and hydro. The first two are non-renewable resources that carry heavy environmental risks. Yet there are steps that can be taken to reduce these impacts and mitigate the risks. Is it possible that stopping the use of coal cold turkey is not the best move for the entire economy? Is it possible that a better triple-bottom line answer is to gradually reduce our coal use by blending it with increasing amounts of biomass over time and improving smokestack scrubbers to reduce emissions?
There is no doubt that renewable energy can and should be a part of the mix. In the long-term, we need to have viable alternatives to non-renewable resources. In addition, it helps that farmers and other landowners have the opportunity to diversify their income streams. But the manner in which this is industry is being developed in Ontario is far from ideal with large corporations taking the lion’s share of what could have been a community-driven industry.
Then there are other green options that could benefit farmers like bio-mass and bio-gas generation. There are environmental benefits to removing methane from manure, social benefits from reduced odour, and the potential economic benefit of selling the product.
The future of energy in this province will be a major factor in the upcoming election. While there are key differences in direction from each major party, there is an over-riding need to consider a triple-bottom line approach to the overall plan that works in both the short and long term. For Ontario’s farmers, it remains to be seen what opportunities and challenges will come with our next government’s priorities for renewable energy.
Nathan Stevens is the Research and Policy Advisor for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and UCB Canada radio stations in Chatham, Belleville, Bancroft, Brockville and Kingston. It is also archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,200 family farmers across Ontario.