An appealing and inadequate (so far) plan for Ontario

Dalton McGuintyThe Toronto Star has a leak of some version of the Ontario government’s “green plan,” meant to position Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals for an election due this fall. The full thing is to come out in a couple of weeks. Greenhouse gases figure prominently, but this is a much more sweeping document than the federal Conservatives’ “green plan,” which was very specifically about reducing heavy polluters’ air emissions.

First of all, let me say that we need some sort of Kyoto Aggressiveness Index, to help compare numbers such as these:

[T]he government will announce greenhouse gas emission reduction targets more aggressive than federal Environment Minister John Baird’s 20 per cent cut from current levels by 2020.

The Liberals are not expected to match the standard promised by NDP Leader Howard Hampton – a cut in emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012, as set out in the Kyoto Protocol. But they will eclipse Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory’s promise of a 10 per cent reduction in 1990 emissions by 2020.

Or, actually, it’d be better if the people proposing greenhouse-gas reduction targets would routinely tell us what their targets mean in actual megatonne reductions from today’s emissions levels.

Anyway, bullet points:

  • Close the last of Ontario’s coal-fired generating plants, probably by 2014. Was originally supposed to be done by this year, turned out to be harder than they thought.
  • To that end, start replacing coal in those plants with agricultural and wood waste. The Star reports that this is to be considered “carbon neutral” on the grounds that other plants will reabsorb the released carbon, but presumably that’s true of the carbon from coal, too.
  • An additional 1,000 megawatts of renewable electricity projects, possibly including a major wind farm. At peak times, Ontario uses about 25,000 megawatts.
  • Also a program offering a fixed price for power from small, low-impact generation sites. Not clear what’s new, since the government already does this at a very high 42 cents a kilowatt-hour, but probably something.
  • “The province is also expected to expand the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard to promote the construction of efficient new buildings.” The Ontario government doesn’t control the LEED standard, so what’s meant by “expand” here I’m not sure, but maybe some kind of rebate system for buildings that meet its higher requirements.
  • Various internal government efficiency measures. More insulation in government buildings, etc.
  • Possibly an enhanced rebate on hybrid cars (though it should be on fuel-efficient ones, not just hybrids per se).

All this stuff sounds good, and generally pretty easy (the energy stuff isn’t easy, but they’ve been working away it it for a whole term of government now and are really just rolling existing programs and policies between new green covers).

It also does not sound like stuff that cuts Ontario’s greeenhouse-gas emissions to 10 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, even if you factor in the federal Conservatives’ regulation of heavy emitters. It certainly doesn’t “stomp” the federal plan, as TreeHugger’s Lloyd Alter has it.

But this is only a leak, presumably intended to generate some positive buzz early since there’s nothing in it anybody could really object to or complain about. The full deal will have to be a lot more ambitious.

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