Outspoken climate denier Joe Oliver is retiring from his position as Chair of the Board of Directors of Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) which operates Ontario’s electricity system and manages power generation.
This is a good opportunity for the government of Ontario to select a more appropriate person to lead the agency, ideally one that supports the much needed transition away from fossil fuels.
Oliver was appointed to chair the IESO in 2019 and during his time, not only has the IESO failed to prepare Ontario for a clean electricity grid, but it has promoted the continued and expanded use of “natural” gas, or more accurately, fossil gas. Of course, we can’t blame Oliver alone, but leadership does matter.
Joe Oliver was an investment banker who became the Federal Minister of Natural Resources and then Minister of Finance under Stephen Harper. Oliver is also currently on the board of High Arctic Energy Services, a Canadian oil drilling company.
Oliver made it clear on many occasions that he does not believe in human-induced climate change and that he doesn’t think climate change is responsible for extreme weather. He has also expressed a view that climate change is actually positive for Canada, mentioning, for example, that it would create “new opportunities for oil, gas and mineral development in the Arctic”. Oliver has also stated that he doesn’t think Canada should do anything about climate change because it wouldn’t make a difference anyway.
It’s possible that such views had an impact on the direction of the IESO which in recent years has laid out a vision for a more polluting electricity grid in Ontario. Rather than proposing and planning for Ontario to move to a fully clean electricity system, it has pushed for the increased use of fossil gas to generate electricity for the province. To the point that in its latest forecast, greenhouse gas emissions from gas plants are set to increase by over 400 per cent by 2030 and by almost 800 per cent by 2040 (compared to the 2017 level).
Last year, the IESO was caught misleading the public by suppressing its own findings that bolstered the case for a cleaner grid and phasing out the use of gas for power. One scenario modeled by the IESO showed that switching to renewables would result in cheaper electricity prices for Ontario consumers. Instead of sharing this scenario and exploring it further, the IESO covered it up and continued to promote a reliance on fossil gas.
Last October, the IESO recommended that Ontario procure 1500 megawatts of new fossil gas generation, which means we are going to see new gas plants being built in Ontario, at a time when we have numerous clean, cheap, and reliable alternatives.
Ontario’s failure to plan for and move towards a clean electricity grid can’t all be pinned on Oliver. There are other pro-fossil gas members on the IESO’s board as well. For example, Steve Baker, who is also on the board of Canadian Gas Association, Ontario Energy Association, Union Gas (now Enbridge gas), and, most problematically, DT Midstream. This is a “natural” gas transportation company that exports gas to Ontario. It is not difficult to imagine that Baker would have an interest in extending the life of gas plants in Ontario to ensure the company he represents continues to have hungry customers here.
The potential influence of a board like this on policy making suggests there is a need for the province to choose members who will prioritize the public good and a safe climate. The government has an opportunity to use the current change in the guard at the IESO to examine its members and select a board that will both ensure a reliable electricity grid as well as a livable future.
Other provinces and countries are already transitioning to using safe renewables like wind and solar, along with storage technologies that allow the sourced power to be used when needed. All of the alternatives are available now and are cheaper than fossil gas. It’s only the lack of political will and leadership holding us back.
Here’s hoping that Oliver’s departure will lead to the selection of a more appropriate chair and board, and that the agency will start to explore cleaner electricity options and take climate change seriously.