Coal reduction costs consumers

An environmental initiative, which began in 2003 under premier Dalton McGuinty to eliminate coal as a source of energy, has displayed significant results. A recent press release indicates that the use of coal-fired power has diminished by 90 per cent in the first months of 2011 in comparison to output levels in 2003.

This places the provincial government in good standing to achieve its goal of eliminating coal use by 2014.

According to Gloria Bacci-Puhl, the media and issues officer for the Ministry of Energy, “Eliminating coal-fired electricity generation is the single largest climate change initiative being undertaken in North America.”

The project aims to create greater air purification and a healthier Ontario. Bacci-Puhl explained that so far 19 coal units have been shut down, with an additional two being eliminated in the upcoming year.

Alex Latta, professor of global studies, explained that the coal phase-out “… really puts Ontario in a leadership position in terms of the kinds of incentives they’re offering for alternative renewables.”

However, advancing green technology does come at a price. Consumer energy bills are expected to increase at a fairly steep rate. In addition, there is the potential for jobs to be lost with the shutdown of many plants.

Bacci-Puhl claims that the government has been “upfront with Ontarians” regarding increased electricity bills.

Regardless, the early anticipated 3.5% annual rise is a steep cost, and may have a damaging effect on consumer advocacy for a greener Ontario. In regards to job allocation, Bacci-Puhl stated that “Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has been working with staff and unions for some time to ensure a smooth transition.” Options for employees range from retirement to reallocation, which is dependent on their length of employment.

Latta believes that the financial detriments of the coal reduction are indicative of a larger problem. “… Energy bills don’t have to be higher if they change their patterns of consumption,” he explained.

Environmentally friendly policies can be politically difficult to implement, as voters are resentful of any hits to their wallet and tend to reflect these sentiments at the polls. Latta blames ineffective education and a lack of incentive for people to change their living standards for apparent apathy to environmental issues.

“With gas prices going up, they’re going up in the context where public transit systems are not all that good, and even in places where they are reasonably good … they’re overloaded,” he critiqued. “The infrastructure is in decline.” While coal power is noted under Ontario’s Green Energy Act as the greatest air pollutant, and its elimination a significant accomplishment, much change is still required for a greener future.

This upcoming fall, voters will have the opportunity to elect their provincial government representative and the environmental viewpoints of candidates may become a more influential factor. Whether the personal cost or the environmental benefit of plans, such as the coal-fired power abolition, will resonate more clearly with Ontarians remains an issue of contention that holds the potential to highly impact Ontario’s future.

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