Just over a week ago, Ontario released its annual budget. To no one’s surprise it contained zero funding to address climate change – not even for clean energy – which the document referred to multiple times.

The Halton Hills Generating Station in Halton Hills, Ontario (Photo by Ian Willms)

The “Clean Energy Advantage” 

In the budget, the government boasts about Ontario’s “clean energy advantage” even though it is actively whittling away at it.

The only reason Ontario’s energy grid is relatively clean (though getting dirtier now) is because previous governments (from other parties) responded to public pressure for cleaner air and lower emissions and phased out the use of coal to generate electricity in the province. As a result, between 2005 and 2017 greenhouse gas pollution from Ontario’s electricity system dropped by 93 per cent. The current government acts like it’s somehow responsible for this feat. It is not.

In fact, the current government is actively making our energy grid a lot dirtier. Early in its first term, it canceled over 750 renewable energy projects, some of which had already been built. In the last seven months, Ontario has extended the contracts of six gas plants and is now in the midst of contracting new gas plants. So while it likes to talk about Ontario’s “clean energy advantage”, the government is actively dismantling it.

The Clean Energy Credit Registry

The budget also references Ontario’s Clean Energy Credit Registry which was officially launched last week. This is the first centralized registry in Ontario that will track the purchase of clean energy credits for electricity generated and consumed in the province. The scheme allows companies to buy clean energy credits from Ontario’s existing renewable power producers and lay a claim to using clean energy, while not actually improving operations.

Ontario Power Generation, a Crown corporation that generates a chunk of the province’s electricity, has been secretly selling clean energy credits since about 2013 and has made millions in profit from the sales. Now the practice has been made official and is being run by the Independent Electricity System Operator, which itself will start selling credits in the summer.

Again, it’s disingenuous for the government to be promoting this scheme while actively making our grid dirtier. According to the Independent Electricity System Operator greenhouse gas emissions from Ontario’s 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). Given that fossil gas will be used more and more, how long will we even have clean energy credits to sell?

While some companies that buy these credits will benefit by being able to claim that they’ve reduced their emissions, it’s unclear what this means for the rest of us who use electricity from Ontario’s grid. If the companies who buy the credits supposedly own the clean power, does our electricity get dirtier?

The Future Clean Electricity Fund

The government announced last week that the funds from the Registry will go into a Future Clean Electricity Fund which will supposedly “help keep costs down for electricity ratepayers by supporting the development of new clean energy projects”. But it’s still unclear how the money will be spent and what kind of projects will get funding. It will be something to watch.

Knowing this government, we probably shouldn’t be too optimistic. The government has shown time and time again that it does not care about climate change.

It’s a real shame because Ontario is in a great position to phase out gas completely and move to a 100 per cent clean electricity grid. Going with renewables would provide cheaper and more stable rates for consumers at a time when fossil gas prices have skyrocketed and are hurting our pocketbooks.

To summarize: The government isn’t funding clean energy but is selling off clean energy credits it wasn’t responsible for creating to private companies for their own benefit. Meanwhile, it is leaving the public with increasing fossil gas emissions and electricity prices.

While the Ontario government is forcing the expanded use of “natural” gas (a fossil fuel), the federal government has promised to deliver 100 per cent clean power across the country by 2035. But, there’s a loophole in its draft regulations: New gas plants are allowed to be built before 2025 and to continue operating and polluting beyond 2035.

Tell the Feds to strengthen these regulations so Ontario can’t build new gas plants!

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