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Premier McGuinty speaks to The Globe's editorial board on April 9, 2010 (Fred Lum)
Premier McGuinty speaks to The Globe's editorial board on April 9, 2010 (Fred Lum)

Margaret Wente

When it comes to power in Ontario, we're in the dark Add to ...

What could bring down Ontario's Liberals? It's not e-Health, a routine case of consultants run amok that ended with everyone being fired. It's not even the hated HST, a huge tax increase that citizens have choked down in the line of duty with scarcely a whimper. No, it's their power bills.

If you haven't opened your September hydro bill yet, you're in for a shock. Rates have risen 18 per cent this year to date, and that's just the start. By this time next year - election time - Ontario power consumers will be forking over about twice as much (in nominal terms) as they did when Dalton McGuinty took office in 2003.

Mr. McGuinty can explain all this to you. In his best Dad manner, he says previous regimes, unfortunately, left a legacy of debt and crumbling infrastructure; the right thing to do is pay the real cost of electricity. No one can argue with that. So don't blame him. And by the way, you can visit the government's website for valuable power-saving tips.

There's just one small detail he neglected to mention - the Green Energy Act, a policy so bad, so expensive, so ideologically driven and so perverse that any normal person should be seeing red. The Green Energy Act gutted public utility regulation and introduced new stealth taxes. The agent of this madness, lest we forget, was George Smitherman, currently running for mayor of Toronto.

Power expert Tom Adams may know more about this subject than any other living being. And he's steamed. Ontario's rates, he says, have already surpassed the U.S. average and are headed for European levels - "just because of public policy."

The policy is to go all out on renewables - wind and solar- whether or not it makes sense. The province is paying sky-high rates for power it doesn't need so we can have wind turbines marching on and on to the horizon, just like Denmark does. "Power demand has been dropping since 2005," says Mr. Adams. In fact, we have so much excess supply that, from time to time, it threatens to crash the system. Because of this, we're even paying the neighbours to take the power off our hands.

"Ontario will need new power supplies in the future," Mr. Adams says. "But why not buy it when we need it?" Instead of waiting, the power authority is signing long-term contracts at the rate of about $1-billion a week, while paying enormous premiums to attract wind and solar producers. In other words, it's making 20-year commitments to pay stunningly high prices for power we don't need.

On top of that, the province is building new transmission lines to nowhere while neglecting to ensure that Toronto's hospitals and banks can keep the lights on. In July, Toronto experienced what Mr. Adams calls "Ontario's first green blackout." That blackout occurred because the city's downtown core is badly underpowered. It has the weakest power system of any financial centre in the developed world.

Why haven't we done anything about it? Because the green lobby has been campaigning for conservation, instead. And so, when the government started picking sites for transmission upgrades, it decided to build a power line up the shore of Lake Nipigon to connect remote wind turbines to Thunder Bay.

Ever since the days of Adam Beck, the father of public power in Ontario, the province's energy policy has been linked to economic policy. The motto was reliable power at cost. Now energy policy has been entirely decoupled from economic policy and attached to the runaway train of environmental policy. Everyone in the power system knows it. But they're so terrified to raise their hands, most of the public is still in the dark.

"The Green Energy Act is unsustainable," says Mr. Adams. "And when it blows up, it will be awfully hard to put things back together again."

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