Land use the paramount factor in Ontario LTEP review: when NIMBY is the right attitude

The opponents of the Oakville and Mississauga gas plants have been roundly derided in the media as selfish NIMBYs concerned only about protecting their privileged enclaves at everyone else’s expense. That is unfair and insulting. Those opponents are looking pretty responsible today, now that they have been utterly vindicated by last weekend’s catastrophe in Lac Megantic. Can you imagine the destruction if the petroleum-laden train had derailed next to a 900-megawatt gas plant? The explosion would have dwarfed the one that actually happened, which was bad enough. The gas plant proposed for Oakville would have been next to a rail line.

Opponents of the Oakville and Mississauga gas-fired power plants were worried about precisely the kind of disaster that occurred in Lac Megantic last weekend.

As I have said before, the Oakville and Mississauga gas plants were part and parcel of the provincial Green Energy Act (GEA). They were required by the GEA’s proponents because their role was to provide the real electricity that the GEA’s wind turbines never could. Wind turbines were the Trojan Horse of the GEA. Inside that horse was billions of cubic meters of natural gas. Natural gas, I must point out, is a carbon-heavy fossil fuel. Have a look at Tables 1 and 2 in the left-hand sidebar. See how many tons of carbon dioxide go with the electricity output of gas-fired plants.

And, as I have also said before, wind turbines proved to be as problematic for the incumbent government as the gas plants were. The GEA was dreamed up by self-styled environmental activists in downtown Toronto. These downtowners had no problem with the latitude the Act provided regarding forcing turbine farms into communities reluctant to host them. Because wind farms are enormous, typicaly covering thousands of hectares of land just for a hundred or so megawatts of generating capacity, there is no possible way to put them into urban communities. Therefore the downtown GEA supporters did not themselves have to live with them, and therefore they had no problem making others live with them.

Well, those others are eligible to vote in provincial elections, and they made it abundantly clear to the incumbent party that their votes would reflect their displeasure with the wind turbines that had sprung up as wind entrepreneurs rushed to take advantage of the exhorbitant revenues Ontario ratepayers were forced to pay them for their inefficient, low-quality electricity. The incumbent party knew it would lose rural seats in the next election.

That is when the incumbent party also realized that some of its priceless urban electoral districts were also in jeopardy, and also because of the very same GEA policies. Because they knew that wind could not possibly provide on-demand electricity, they went along with the “environmentalist” demands for natural gas. Hence the rush to site the Oakville and Mississauga gas plants; hence the fury of Oakville and Mississauga residents who worried about precisely the kind of accident that just happened in Lac Megantic.

All this could and should have been avoided, had the government understood who its true friends are. Instead of listening to pseudo environmentalists who just want to expand the market for natural gas in Ontario, the government should have taken a cold-blooded look at who really delivers cheap, low-carbon electricity. Had it done so, it would have realized that it owns three nuclear plants, which currently provide well over half Ontario’s electricity, day in and day out, without dumping a single gram of carbon dioxide into our formerly pristine air.

The government would have realized, if it had kept its head and not listened to opportunistic wind farm companies, that it could expand the generating capacity of two of its nuclear plants and covered whatever power requirements are upcoming. And that the nuclear host communities, far from opposing these capacity expansions, would welcome them.

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