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Here, from energy economist Robert Lyman, an excellent view of the situation we are in because of the Ontario government’s “green energy” tactic. never mind that has failed as an economic driver and job creation mechanism, did it ever have a hope of what it was supposed to do? “Save” the environment?

Will Ontario’s Green Power plan save the planet?

The Ontario government has to date committed almost $60 billion over the next 20 years to building industrial wind turbines and solar power generators. In the case of wind turbines, the construction of hundreds of plants across the province has given rise to major conflicts between those who stand to benefit from the huge electricity ratepayer subsidies and those whose health and property values are threatened. Ontario’s electricity generation capacity is already 40% above the peak requirements, and yet the provincial government continues to contract for more power. When those concerned about the economic, social and health impacts of adding so much “green” energy complain, they are often confronted with an argument expressed with almost religious conviction. Supporters of green energy insist we need it to “save the planet” from the threat of climate change.

There are many reasons to question the scientific arguments behind the thesis that human beings are responsible for what may be “catastrophic” climate change 100 years hence. The arguments about this are highly technical. Instead, let us examine two things:

  • The contrast between various experts’ estimates of the reductions needed in world greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the estimates of actual and projected emissions
  • The magnitude of the emissions reductions that can be achieved in Ontario in the global context

The primary source of expert advice to governments concerning climate change is the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It advises the governments that are party to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change and subsequent related agreements. In the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, these parties agreed that, to avoid what they considered a dangerous level of “global warming”, it would be necessary to limit increases in the average global temperature to no more than two degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial times. To accomplish this, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, now about 395 parts per million (ppm), would have to be reduced to at least 350 ppm. As stated by the United States Presidential Climate Change Action Project and other sources, this means that global emissions would have to decline by 60% by 2050 and that emissions in the industrialized countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) would have to decline by 80%. These reductions are from current levels. In the case of industrialized countries, an 80% reduction from current levels by 2050 means the virtual elimination of fossil fuel use, except in certain areas where this is technically impossible. The advocates insist that nothing less than this reduction is enough.

The best current estimates of present and future global energy supply and demand and related emissions are those produced by the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the OECD International Energy Agency (IEA). Both organizations issued updated projections in 2013. The EIA analysis uses a “reference case” that includes assumptions concerning economic growth but not changes in current policies and laws; its projection period runs to 2040. The IEA analysis uses a reference case that assumes significant changes in policies and laws, especially in the OECD, to reduce GHG emissions; its projection period runs to 2035.

The results of the two studies are similar in several respects. Notably:

  • Both reports project that world consumption of energy and the related GHG emissions will grow significantly. The EIA projects world carbon dioxide emissions to rise from 31.2 billion metric tons in 2010 to 45.5 billion metric tons in 2049, an increase of 46%. The IEA projects that carbon dioxide emissions will grow by 20% to 37.2 billion metric tons by 2035.
  • Both reports project that most of the energy demand and emissions growth will occur in the non-OECD countries. According to the EIA, energy use in non-OECD countries grows by 90%, in OECD countries by 17%. According to the IEA, 96% of the growth in world energy demand and emissions occurs in non-OECD countries; the OECD accounts for only 4%.
  • Coal is the most GHG-intensive fuel. However, both studies foresee significant increases in coal consumption, especially in China and India.
  • Fossil fuels represent 82% of the global energy mix, the same as they did 25 years ago. This share reduces to 75% in 2035, but fossil fuels remain the dominant source of the world’s energy.

In short, the best available expert projections of global energy use and GHG emissions shows that these are moving significantly counter to the direction that the IPCC regards as essential. This growth is driven by the desire of people in the developing countries to attain higher levels of income, economic development and wellbeing, much of which is directly tied to increased energy use.

Radical solutions

Those who are persuaded that climate change mitigation must be pursued at all costs to “save the planet” are left with radical solutions. James Hansen, the former head of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space administration who is now perhaps the most prominent advocate for dramatic action, has recommended immediately taking steps to “leave all fossil fuels in the ground” which presumably means banning all future exploration, production, distribution and consumption of coal, oil and natural gas either through regulation or taxation (Hansen recommends a tax of up to $1000 per tonne of carbon dioxide, but is willing to contemplate a beginning tax of $15 per tonne, rising $10 per year indefinitely.). Unfortunately for Dr. Hansen, the world is not listening.

In these circumstances, people in Canada and the rest of the OECD have to question the rationale for costly emission-reduction measures that have relatively modest effects. To illustrate this point, if one takes as accurate the EIA estimate of 31.2 billion metric tons of annual global GHG emissions in 2010, and accepts the need for a 60% reduction in that level by 2050, this would mean that the world would have to achieve an 18.7 billion metric ton reduction in 36 years. If one further assumes that the non-OECD countries will continue their present path of emissions growth related to their desire for economic development and improvement in standards of living, then all OECD countries could suddenly disappear from the planet, thereby emitting not one whiff of CO2, and the target still would not be attained!

Those who believe the science may perhaps be persuaded that it makes far more sense to give up on mitigation approaches and concentrate instead on investing in adapting to what they view as inevitable climate change impacts. The investments may be large, but they could be tailored to the specific effects that occur and they would be within each country’s control. Those of us who fundamentally question the science and economic projections of the IPCC have less cause for concern.

There are those who argue that, even if the emissions reductions that are likely to occur are nowhere close to enough to affect the (alleged) path of global warming, the people of Ontario have a “moral obligation” to incur those costs anyway. The author admits to being completely baffled by this logic, but it may be useful to examine just how much, in fact, Ontario’s $40 billion in renewable wind and solar generation is likely to affect global emissions.

Canada’s share

According to the United Nations Statistics Division, Canada’s share of greenhouse gas emissions represents 1.8 % of global emissions.  Environment Canada’s National Emissions Inventory shows that electricity and heat generation from all provinces totals 98 megatonnes (Mt) of GHGs, or 14% of Canada’s total emissions of 690 Mt. Emissions from Ontario’s electricity production and consumption represent about 15 % of those from all electricity in Canada. Therefore, all of Ontario’s electricity-related emissions represent 0.039% of global emissions. If Ontario ceased to produce and consume all electricity overnight, it would reduce global emissions by less than one twenty-fifth of one per cent.

In fact, all of the renewable energy associated with Ontario’s Green Energy Plan would only decrease Ontario’s electricity emissions by 20% in the most optimistic scenario. In other words, this would reduce global emissions by 0.008%.

However, there are reasons to question whether the massive investment in renewable generation sources would have been needed to achieve even this small effect. The Fraser Institute published a report in 2013 entitled, “Environmental and Economic Consequences of Ontario’s Green Energy Act”. Here is an excerpt from that report:

“Electricity supply is divided into base-load capacity, which comes from sources like hydroelectric and nuclear that deliver a fixed amount of power that cannot easily be adjusted up or down on short notice, and peak capacity, which can be scaled up and down as system demand changes through the day. Ontario power demand currently averages about 18,000 MW and reaches a maximum annual peak of about 26,000 MW. Using figures from the Ontario Power Authority and the Independent Electricity System Operator, the Provincial Auditor General projects average demand to decline to about 16,000 MW and peak demand to fall to about 24,000 MW. Nuclear and hydroelectric facilities alone currently provide 18,000 MW of base-load capacity. In addition, Ontario has 9,500 MW of gas capacity as well as 4,500 MW of the coal-fired power plants much of which is unused. The AGO estimates Ontario will have at least 10,000 MW of surplus generating capacity through 2025.”

In other words, Ontario’s electrical generating capacity already so far exceeds needs that the coal-burning power plants (the principal sources of GHG emissions) could have been shut down without adding a single new wind or solar plant.

The net effect of these plants on reducing Ontario GHG emissions was zero.

Robert Lyman

Ottawa, March 2014