In Ontario, the good news is the successful phase out of coal power, which not that long ago provided 25 percent of our total electricity, has had a huge positive impact. Ontario’s current electricity generation capacity is made up of 36 percent nuclear power and 28 percent gas and oil, with the remaining 36 percent coming from renewable resources like hydroelectric, solar, wind, and biofuels. The riddle of how that capacity should evolve is a complicated one with many factors including not only questions of emissions, but also initial capital costs, ongoing fuel and maintenance costs, peak vs. baseload timing, and grid integration.

The price tag is important, but it’s not everything

The subject of cost has long been a sore spot when it comes to renewable energy and green technology. Poor information has led many Canadians to believe wind and solar are far more expensive than their actual pricetags. “We’ve already seen a huge reduction in the cost of developing renewable projects,” says Nicole Risse, Interim Executive Director of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association. “The large costs of renewables are all up front. After a project is built, the ongoing maintenance costs are very low. There’s no fuel cost, because the Sun and the wind are free.”

One of the most powerful ways to incentivize businesses particularly to go green is by putting a price on carbon, as Ontario’s upcoming cap and trade system would do.

In other areas, a recent commitment to refurbish a portion of Ontario’s reactors ensures nuclear power generation will continue to provide affordable energy to Ontarians for the foreseeable future. Combined with hydroelectric, nuclear provides an essential baseload capacity that can’t be easily replaced with solar or wind. As Canadians become ever more engaged in the issues of climate change and green technology, solid information about costs is essential as price will never stop being a concern. “There is a lot more talk about the future we are creating,” says Janet Stewart, President of SmartNet Alliance. “Of course, people are still cost conscious and need to see they are getting value for their money.” However, one thing is certain, a diverse supply mix is vital to guaranteeing the delivery of low cost, emissions-free energy on a daily basis.  

Burning the candle at both ends

Generation, however, is only one half of the equation. Massive amounts of electricity are wasted in Canada, a portion of it being at the point of consumption. At the consumer end, green buildings and everyday energy conservation can play a profound role in reducing our electricity needs even as our economy grows. “Energy conservation is something really important that everyone can do. It can start as simply as turning off the lights when you leave the room,” says Stewart. “If everyone makes a small effort, it has a big effect.”

One of the most powerful ways to incentivize businesses particularly to go green is by putting a price on carbon, as Ontario’s upcoming cap and trade system would do. Cap and trade differs from a straight carbon tax in that companies which exceed their emissions limit can purchase credits from companies that stay below the cap, allowing the market to work as a force to find efficiencies. “Carbon tax and cap and trade are both tools we have in our toolbox to provide the right incentives to generate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says Risse.

In all, Ontario’s transition to cleaner sources has combined with energy conservation and other initiatives to result in real change we can already see. Ontario’s current emission levels are 5.6 percent lower than they were in 1990, despite the fact emission levels have risen by 18 percent nationally on that timescale. But, this is no time to rest on our laurels. While we may have slowed our dash towards climate change disaster, we’re a long way yet from truly reversing course. It will all depend on our ability to band together and keep working towards a greener Ontario, a greener Canada, and a greener Earth.