M.I.A. – Ontario’s Culture of Conservation
Volume 3 - Issue 6
By Terry Wildman, Senior Editor
"Ontario's local distribution companies are showing initiative and innovation in the development and delivery of community-based conservation activities, as well as supporting and delivering province-wide programs, " says Charlie Macaluso, President and CEO, Electricity Distributors Association (EDA). "Distributors recognize the importance of substantial and timely conservation measures and are committed to providing their customers with the tools that will help promote a culture of conservation amongst Ontarians."
This is very good news. Off their own backs, the province's electricity distributors are buying into the 'culture' and to this end are providing the kind of front-line programs and tools that are helping their customers conserve.
On the obverse, however, I learned some disappointing news when I recently attended a briefing by Gord Miller, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO)1 where he asked the pointed question, "Where is Ontario's Culture of Conservation?" He claims the Ontario government has forgotten one of the important goals of its own 2009 Green Energy and Green Economy Act (GEGEA).
His release of the Annual Energy Conservation Progress Report – 2011 (Vol.1) reviews how well the government is living up to its energy conservation promises. The report also contains recommendations on how the powers that be can fulfill the GEGEA commitments. "When the GEGEA was introduced," says Miller, "the government said that fostering a 'culture of conservation' was just as important as increasing the amount of renewable energy." Three years on many of the act's conservation promises remain unmet, or in the case of mandatory energy audits before the sale of a house, completely abandoned. Mr. Miller went on to state, "Instead of fostering a 'culture of conservation' the Ontario Government seems intent on making it an orphan." He also believes that meeting and/or exceeding GEGEA commitments is probably years away.
The report identifies energy conservation promises that were never acted on by the government:
The ECO says the Ontario government does deserve praise for making the Ontario Building Code more energy efficient and for requiring municipalities, municipal service boards, school boards, hospitals, and colleges and universities to develop energy conservation plans and to report on their organization's energy usage. Miller notes, however, that this is an arm's-length approach that disconnects conservation from people's day-to-day lives. "You cannot foster a 'culture of conservation' in Ontario unless you take actions that actually engage the individual consumer or homeowner."
So, why should we value energy conservation?
For a better understanding, let's take an historical example from Ontario's long-term electricity planning. In 1989, Ontario Hydro put forth a plan that projected a large gap between supply and demand, determining that the province would require supply capacity that could meet peak demand of 40,000 MW. The plan proposed building several additional nuclear reactors and natural gas turbines. But for several reasons, the projected demand did not materialize. It was also during this period that efficiency began to make a dent, energy intensity improved and for the first time, growth in consumption and growth in GDP did not move in lockstep. The province still does not require such a huge amount of capacity – even during Ontario's all-time peak demand in the summer of 2006, the maximum electricity draw was 27,005 MW. Peak demand in 2010 was 25,075 MW. For the want of a nail…
Today, Ontario faces similar uncertainties: structural economic change domestically and a highly uncertain economic outlook globally. Ontario's electricity plan has been revised recently, particularly with respect to anticipated industrial demand and conservation targets. The province's power consumption is now roughly equal to what it was a decade ago. The Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) assumes that consumption will be almost flat until 2020 and that conservation is expected to offset roughly two-thirds of the projected growth in demand over the next five years. Further conservation opportunities could help avoid building some new supply projects leaving the door open for integrated renewable energies. This attitude is being witnessed more and more in communities that are loath to host new power plants of any type.
From conservation to distribution
Distributed energy from renewable sources located close to the demand served might also be viewed as a pillar of conservation and brings energy use 'up close and personal.' It instills the thinking that, individually and as a society, Ontarians need to live within their means. By locating efficient supply close to demand, delivery losses are reduced and energy that might be wasted is recovered. The energy supply is planned not as a remote centralized infrastructure but as a distributed network with nodes of net zero consumption. It is becoming evident that once an energy footprint is determined, people, businesses, and institutions are inspired to take additional steps to reduce this footprint. It still remains that the desire to have generation in close proximity to the communities where it will be used is strongly held until the implementation starts and residents realize it will change their neighbourhood and environment.
Beyond the home is the infrastructure that connects the homes and businesses to the electrical generation equipment. The familiar poles, wires, and transformers will be even more critical going forward as people attempt to balance a system that has even more variability than the system they are used to today. Offering surplus power to a neighbour – or a neighbouring province – in return for electricity from them when you are running short will be a minute-by-minute or hour-by-hour process. The more connected people are, and the more efficient the connection system is, the better chance there is of using more renewables as a source of energy in the future.
1 The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario is appointed by the Legislative Assembly to be the province's independent environmental watchdog. The ECO is tasked with the monitoring and reporting on compliance with the Environmental Bill of Rights, and the government's success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in achieving greater energy conservation in Ontario.