The province’s decision to expand the provincial Greenbelt and close Ontario’s last two coal-fired power plants was met with approval by environmentalists, health promotion organizations and others.
Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty made the joint announcement Thursday morning at Bajar Greenhouses in Newmarket.
The visit heralded a 630-acre expansion to the Greenbelt, through the addition of the provincially owned Glenorchy lands in Oakville, and the closure of the Lambton and Nanticoke coal-burning power plants by the end of this year.
Beyond increasing the Greenbelt to nearly two million acres, Mr. McGuinty announced municipalities will be given greater flexibility to protect publicly owned land, such as open spaces and parkland, to further grow the Greenbelt through the new Urban River Valley designation.
“When we came to government in 2003, we decided to stop burning coal and to protect more greenspace to help clean our air,” he said. “Thanks to the conservation efforts of Ontarians, we were able to do just that and, today, all Ontarians can breathe a little easier.”
Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation CEO Burkhard Mausberg said he was very pleased with Mr. McGuinty’s Greenbelt announcement.
The swath of protected land running across the Greater Golden Horseshoe has already made Ontario the envy of many jurisdictions around the world, he said, adding Thursday’s expansion will ensure that continues to be the case.
This is a great day for the Greenbelt, he said. “Now, I can say we’re not just world leaders; we’re getting even better.”
Environmental Defence applauded the announcements.
The closure of the Nanticoke coal plant is especially significant, campaign director Gillian McEachern said, explaining the site was once “the largest single source point of global warming pollution in North America.”
The Ontario Lung Association and Ontario Medical Association also praised the announcements.
“Every Ontarian has a reason to celebrate today, especially those living with a serious lung disease,” Andrea Stevens-Lavigne of the lung association said. “This will also help the economy by saving health care dollars.”
The addition to the Greenbelt and new tools for local municipalities are welcome, but only if they are applied appropriately, Newmarket-Aurora Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees said.
Too often, such measures are put in place based on political expediency, rather than good planning.
“I think anything we can do from a public policy perspective to preserve greenspace is a good thing,” Mr. Klees said. “However, I think what’s also important is to make sure the proper planning is put in place to do that.”
However, on the energy file, Mr. Klees took issue with Mr. McGuinty’s suggestion the coal plants were being closed a year early.
If anything, the closure of the province’s last two coal-burning plants is long overdue, he said, adding he supports a strong mix of electricity sources including nuclear, natural gas-fired and renewables.
“It’s another instance of curious Liberal mathematics,” he said. “The fact is, it’s seven years late, not one year early, because the Liberals said in 2003 they would close all of the coal-fired power plants by 2007.
“It’s clear they’re again counting on voter amnesia.”
What’s worse, Mr. Klees continued, is the government is only able to shut down the coal plants ahead of its revised target because the province lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs during the recession.
As for the cost of energy, electricity costs are actually trending downward, as evidenced by a slight mid-peak and off-peak rate decrease in the fall, after a period of escalation, Energy Minister Chris Bentley.
Mr. Bentley expects the end of coal-fired generation in Ontario would ultimately produce a net benefit for ratepayers, he said, but stopped short of saying a noticeable rate decrease was in the cards.–public-land-gets-more-pr…