Nurses for Safe Renewable Power

Looking for a healthy environment for everyone

Comment on the RNAO policy statement on Ontario energy policy

In the 2 weeks since the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) announced the release of its policy statement on energy–the statement was approved in March, but not released until April 23rd–the one question we have heard over and over is, Why are nurses commenting on Ontario’s electricity generation policy?

Why indeed.

Politics, that’s why; it’s the only answer. It sure isn’t about health. The RNAO has a very cosy relationship with a couple of organizations such as Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (whose Executive Director Gideon Forman is sometimes remiss in correcting people who address him or refer to him as “Dr”–he is not) and the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.

Several commentators have published their remarks about this very odd paper, such as Parker Gallant at

We also received a paper from  Ottawa resident and former energy policy advisor Robert Lyman. His paper is below.

Email us at


April, 2012, Ottawa

by Robert Lyman

The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario recently released a policy statement on the subject of “Healthy Energy Solutions for Ontario.”  In it, the RNAO called for “increased reliance on renewable energy such as community-based, appropriately located and scaled water, wind, solar and bioenergy.” The paper called for the immediate closure of all remaining coal plants.  I was amazed to learn that the expertise ofOntario’s nurses extended to energy policy. Perhaps their support has something to do withOntariogovernment employees’ support for the policies of Dalton McGuinty.

In Ontario, you see, the Liberal government has declared that there should be no more electrical energy generation from coal-fired power plants, because they emit greenhouse gases. So, to push coal out, the Liberals came up with the idea of ordering the Ontario Power Authority to purchase an open-ended amount of power from “green” energy sources, and especially industrial wind power generators and solar power generators. The government decided to offer onshore wind generators 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) and solar power generators 80.2 cents per kWh through a device called the Feed In Tariff (FIT). The power that the Ontario Power Generation Authority (OPG) receives for the energy that it produces using conventional power sources like hydro, natural gas and nuclear energy is about 3 cents per kWh.

The FIT rates are among the highest offered to renewable energy anywhere in the world. Naturally, several companies raced to cash in. The government, in a rush to show how green it could be, signed a contract with Samsung, the Korean company, to install a 2000 megawatt wind farm. No other bidders were allowed to compete. The wind farm will cost almost $8 billion over 20 years, guaranteed. Other contracts have been signed and will go on being signed; the Ontario Power Authority won’t say how much it has committed so far, but several experts who track information provided to the Ontario Energy Board estimate that the amount totals almost $20 billion.

These cost increases have been one of the most important factors driving electricity rates for consumers over the last six years. During that time, electricity rates for residential consumers have risen by 86% to about $1,200 per year on average. According to the Ontario Power Authority, they will rise another 45% by 2015 to just over $1600. For many decades,Ontariohad among the lowest electricity rates inCanadaand used this to attract industry. Now,Ontario’s electricity rates are the second highest inCanada, behind onlyPrince Edward Island. By 2015,Ontariowill be among the highest-priced electricity jurisdictions inNorth America. In theUnited States, electricity prices are actually declining. By 2025, if current trends continue, the average Ontario household may have an annual electricity bill of $3,000, probably the highest in the OECD.

But wait, it gets worse.

Ontario is adding to its power generation capacity by adding new “green” energy sources. However, electrical energy consumption inOntariohas been dropping significantly for eight years, due to the combined effects of higher prices, economic recession and the departure of industries. OPG now has about 40% surplus generation capacity, and this is expected to decline only gradually as older plants are retired. The wind and solar generation is given priority access to the grid. Consequently, when demand is not enough for the available power generation, OPG is forced to shut down the low cost conventional energy plants and run the expensive plants, raising costs for consumers while depriving OPG of the revenue it needs. As a result, OPG has not been able to pay off all the “stranded debt” of about $18 billion that existed at the time that Ontario Hydro was split up. Every year,Ontarioconsumers pay a special charge of about $900 million to retire that debt. The charge was supposed to end this year; now, the government won’t commit to when it will end.

But wait, it gets worse.

When demand in Ontario is less than generation, there sometimes are limits on how much OPG can cut back, so there is surplus power that simply must be sold into the export market. This happens so frequently that the price of power exports has dropped to depressed levels. For the past several months, it has been about 2 cents per kWh. So, Ontario Power Generation pays 13.5 cents for wind power and 80.2 cents for solar power and receives 2 cents or less for it when it is dumped on the export market. To make up these losses, the Ontario Energy Board has authorized an increase in the rates charged toOntarioconsumers. In 2011, the extra costs were about $400 million. This figure is expected to be significantly higher in 2012.

But wait, it gets still worse.

The rationale for all these expensive investments in green energy is allegedly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and shut down coal. Wind and solar power generation have in common the fact that they are intermittent energy sources. Wind turbines produce only when the wind blows and solar energy produces only when the sun shines. The demand for power, however, remains roughly constant from day to day. To provide the stability and reliability needed for the system, OPA has had to contract for several natural gas power generators. These generators of course operate at sub-optimal levels, coming on only as needed to back up the wind and solar. Consequently, the emissions from these natural gas units offset the emissions reductions theoretically offered by the wind and solar plants. The net emissions reduction is considered to be small to non-existent. One researcher for the alliance of rural landowners opposing wind turbines did a detailed calculation, plant by plant, for 2010; he concluded that the net savings were equivalent, in carbon dioxide volume terms, to the flatulence of one cow.

Finally, it gets absurd.

One wonders what would have been the benefit if, instead of having virtually no net effect on emissions reduction, the addition of thousands of wind and solar plants would actually have reduced Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions by the full amount that Ontario wanted to achieve. This can be shown in percentage terms.Canadarepresents 1.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Electricity generation inCanadarepresents 14% ofCanada’s emissions.Ontariorepresents about 15% ofCanada’s electricity-related emissions. About 20% ofOntario’s electricity-related emissions would be eliminated by the “green energy”. Therefore, if it was totally successful,Ontario’s investment would have reduced global emissions by 0.008%. That’s zero if you are into rounding.

Zero is also a reasonable estimate of the benefit to Ontario residents from being impoverished by green energy policies. Maybe the nurses should stick to nursing.



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