Friday, February 5

Where's the logic behind green power?

There was an interesting article on the front page of Wednesday's Hamilton Spectator. It seems the Ontario Power Authority, which is responsible for ensuring Ontario's electricity needs are met, is offering 20-year contracts to homeowners for wind or solar power generated on their properties.

In other words, if you have a solar panel on your roof, Ontario wants to buy your power. What made my jaw drop about the article, however, is the price they're offering: 80.2 cents per kilowatt hour for solar power, according to the article. Apparently, most consumers currently pay between six and 11 cents per kilowatt hour on their electric bill.

So why would the Ontario Power Authority offer more than 13 times the going rate for power? Wind and solar power are probably more environmentally friendly than other sources of power, such as coal or nuclear. But if the green power costs 13 times more, surely the savings from buying more environmentally-unfriendly types of power could be used to repair whatever environmental wrongs they cause. The only logical justification I can think of is that Ontario expects power prices to shoot through the roof over the next 20 years, such that 80.2 cents won't seem like a ridiculous price for power in a few years.

Instead, the Ontario Power Authority seems to suggest the program is a sort of economic stimulus initiative: "the first FIT projects will generate in excess of $5 billion in investments in manufacturing, design, construction and engineering and lead to the creation of thousands of new jobs."

But digging holes creates jobs and investment, just like frivolously breaking a window creates jobs for glass repair guys. The important question is what kind of stuff (investments, manufacturing, construction, jobs) could be accomplished with the $5 billion if we keep using cheap power sources. $5 billion can buy a lot of swag, and I'm guessing some bright people can come up with some better ways to spend that money than on a bit of solar power.