The costs of green energy
Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal on Saturday, March 5, 2011
Glen Day’s Feb. 26 letter, Green Zeal Too Costly, rightly criticizes government flip-flopping on energy supply in Ontario, but wrongly targets the move toward green energy as the cause of our energy woes. I agree that green energy should have to prove itself as a viable energy source, but we have to look beyond our household energy bills, and consider the real costs of not going green. For example, the Ontario Medical Association estimates that the total annual health costs associated with poor air quality in Ontario, to which the current electricity supply mix is a major contributor, is $9.9 billion per year.
We know that the "current electricity supply-mix" culprit is fossil-fuel, pollution from which kills and sickens thousands of Ontarians each year, and drives up health care costs. We need to connect the dots here and recognize that getting rid of the fossil-fueled component of our electricity supply translates into better health and health-care cost savings.
Why are energy costs where they are? Paul McKay, journalist and author of Atomic Accomplice: How Canada Deals in Deadly Deceit, documents convincingly how, since 1999, Ontario ratepayers have made $36.3 billion in cumulative payments toward a "stranded" nuclear energy debt, and how they will likely pay at least $60 billion in the next decade just to service and retire a further $27.6-billion nuclear-related debt, and get not a single extra kilowatt-hour delivered for these payments.
Given these facts, it’s hard to grasp that nuclear plants are currently being lauded by some as the way to eliminate fossil-fuel generation. Build a new reactor? Darlington, our last reactor, cost $14.3 billion to build, four times its original estimate. And so-called new-generation reactors are predicted to be as expensive as they were a generation ago. "So we have a perverse optical illusion: more than half of Ontario’s energy comes from nuclear plants which appear far cheaper than they are, while new renewable projects appear far more expensive than their secretly-subsidized main rival," says McKay. "In addition, our generation’s public utility will leave behind some 40,000 tonnes of nuclear wastes that will remain latently lethal for centuries, and a related fiscal time-bomb for entombing retired reactors, for which we are likely to be cursed." The promotional materials issued by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization as it tries to seduce our vulnerable, job-hungry, down-on-their-luck northern towns into becoming nuclear waste graveyards, promises "thousands of jobs . . . for many decades." Try 25,000 decades as that is the length of time radioactive waste must be safeguarded. Add those very real transport and safe-storage costs to ours and our children’s children’s children’s etc., electricity bills! Contrast that with a proposed $14-billion investment in pollution-free, fuel-free, waste-free, safe-storage-free green energy (two coffees and a doughnut per month) with real honest-to-goodness electrical energy to show for it. Let’s get fossil and nuclear off the table ASAP.
Coal’s legacy is one of pollution, dangerous acceleration of global warming, health and climate risk. Nuclear has a deplorable fiscal track-record, transportation and safe storage of nuclear waste is a daunting problem and nuclear reactors are vulnerable to accidents and acts of terrorism. (Good luck terrorizing a wind farm!)
In our own best interests, and on behalf of the voiceless and vulnerable yet unborn, I say let’s first of all conserve energy like our collective good health and wealth depend on it. Energy conservation is generally recognized as the most cost-effective way to help curb CO2 emissions and stabilize our household energy bills. (Premier McGuinty, keep those household energy retrofit rebates coming!) And let’s give green energy a chance. Conservation and green energy in concert add up to a cleaner, more sustainable environment, with better health, a less expensive health care system and the potential to keep more green in our own pockets.
Scott Harris Thunder Bay