Thursday, January 26, 2006

It's about power

There's an ongoing kerfuffle about nuclear power plants here in Ontario, refitting old ones and building new ones. There is an unhappy history of capital cost overruns and dubious reliability of the ones that get built, not to mention that it is de facto corporate welfare for AECL - and last week's West Wing won't help either.

Windfarms are starting to happen but not at the rate of the anti-nuke crowd's paragon, Germany. There is also conservation, where some folk say if only we used less power we'd be fine. The name of the last update to the building code which imposes optional standards for energy efficiency is R-2000 which gives you an idea of how old the standard one is. Premier McGuinty's promise of shutting all coal fired plants will place massive stress on a grid which doesn't have enough power as it is, and residents groups are successfully opposing new gas plants in Mississauga and the portlands of Toronto.

As supply is falling with the ending of coal plants and the delay of their replacements, demand is rising not merely because of lack of conservation. Ontario grew by over 656,000 people between 1996-2001, a rise over 1.2 percent per year, and a similar increase is likely to be shown in the 2006 census in May. Add to that the increasing density of iPods, cellphones, blackberrys and so on means that while the devices are more efficient, there are more of them so at best we're treading water and a significant reduction in usage per person is unlikely. Gas fired stations are more efficient but not immune to opposition, emit CO2 (if less than coal) and the price of gas is not being helped by reduction in production to enhance oil well pressure and opposition to sour gas extraction.

The Green Party of Canada got a lot of stick for its internal politics at this election but also has a lot of enemies in the green movement worldwide, not just because its leader used to be a Tory, but because unlike many of their counterparts they use eco-capitalist tax policy rather than regulation as the primary driver of getting people to go green - in that the most harmful activities to the environment would attract penal "Bads and Services Tax", low impact activities would hardly be taxed if at all. While it may not be the most "ideologically pure" method it strikes me as the one most likely to work, just as higher oil prices have driven the auto industry into taking hybrid engines and biodiesel seriously.
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