Ontario's Liberal government hopes its Green Energy Act to be introduced Monday will create 50,000 new jobs and transform the province's struggling economy, but environmentalists warn the plan relies too heavily on nuclear power.
The bill will make it easier to bring renewable energy projects to life and create a culture of conservation, said Energy Minister George Smitherman.
"These two thrusts combined will support a new green economy for this province and will create sustainable green employment for Ontarians," said Mr. Smitherman.
"The (bill) will turbo-charge the creation of renewable energy in this province and set the standard for green energy policy across this continent."
Mr. Smitherman also said Ontario would keep Energy Star standards for appliances to help reduce people's electricity use - and their bills - and within months will introduce time-of-day pricing so people can save money by using washers and dryers at off-peak periods.
"We're going to . . . put pressure on manufacturers and suppliers of appliances to make sure that their products are achieving energy efficient standards as strong as anywhere else in North America," he said.
"I can't promise whether the tax break regimes will always look as they do now, but people should anticipate that we will continue to find ways to assist them . . . lower overall electricity use."
Greenpeace Canada said the Green Energy Act is a good tool, but won't really help if the province sticks to its plan to have nuclear power provide 50 per cent of Ontario's electricity needs, the same level it currently provides.
"What we haven't heard from the government yet is an actual willingness to expand the deployment of renewables and conservation," said Greenpeace's Shawn-Patrick Stensil.
"That'll be the litmus test of whether this government is committed to going green; Whether it's willing to reduce the commitment to rebuild all of our old (nuclear) stations and build new ones, or whether it's willing to give some space to renewables."
The Ontario Clean Air Alliance also wants the government to use the Act to signal a move away from nuclear power.
"We're very concerned the government is still committed to signing contracts for two new nuclear reactors at the Darlington station, and if that happens that will lock Ontario into a nuclear future for at least another 60 years," said alliance chair Jack Gibbons.
"The key question is whether the government is seriously committed to energy efficiency and a green future or whether it's going to give another big blank cheque to the nuclear industry."
Mr. Smitherman also vowed to "replace the snail's pace with a sense of urgency" when it comes to developing new transmission capacity, and said the bill will create a renewable energy tariff to encourage investment.
"In layman's terms, it means Ontario will offer an attractive price for renewable power," he said. "And we'll guarantee that price for decades."
Premier Dalton McGuinty has warned activists and municipalities that the province won't tolerate any objections to new wind turbines or solar panel farms that aren't based on safety or environmental concerns.
The bill will replace a patchwork of local bylaws governing where energy projects can be located with provincewide standards, such as minimum setbacks from homes and environmentally sensitive areas.
"This is an opportunity to try and address the concerns that come forward and take municipalities a little bit off the hook for trying to figure this out," said Mr. Smitherman.
"It is motivated by the notion that forms of renewable energy are very benign, especially in contrast to coal, which we're getting out of."
Coal currently makes up about 15 per cent of Ontario's electricity needs, but the Liberals want to phase it out completely by 2014.