By Sean Mallen
At a conference filled with all manner of learned power point presentations, one single slide may have most tellingly illustrated the outlook for energy planning in Ontario.
It was a picture of a notice board jammed with a riot of overlapping papers—an image of chaos that drew knowing laughter from an roomful of energy professionals.
It came from Robyn Gray of Sussex Strategies as she was speaking about the overlapping of the Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP), the Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP) and the new Cap and Trade regime in Ontario. Gray admitted that it was a struggle to explain how they all came together.
“I tried to find an answer for you, but I couldn’t,” she said.
“There’s a lack of coordination between CCAP and LTEP. In my short life, I’ve never seen anything so huge that covers so many government departments,” said Gray.
The theme of the APPrO 2016 conference was Challenge + Change, but it could have easily been Uncertainty + Unknowns.
Climate change measures may well result in increasing electrification in Ontario, even as the cabinet of the Wynne government considers a 20-year plan for power, due to be rolled out in the next year. Meanwhile, the IESO is simultaneously seeking input on how best to renew the market.
“I think of it as one big ball of uncertainty,” said Jason Chee-Aloy of Power Advisory LLP. “I’m a baseball guy and I can’t tell which inning we’re in.”
Ontario’s new Environmental Commissioner, Dianne Saxe, was even blunter in her assessment. “Our energy planning doesn’t make any sense in terms of our climate targets,” she said. “There are calls for more electricity at a time when headlines say there’s a revolt against the price of electricity.”
Saxe believes the provincial government’s targets for carbon reduction are not nearly ambitious enough. The electricity sector is a relatively small contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, much smaller than transportation or buildings. But she says there is not enough attention being paid to improving efficiency and conservation.
In his speech to the conference, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault encouraged everyone in the sector to take part in the consultations on the LTEP. But some wonder about the openness of the process.
Michael Reid, Assistant Deputy Minister in the Energy Ministry, faced a pointed question in a panel discussion on the LTEP. How, he was asked, can it be transparent when the final document will be approved in cabinet, where all discussions are confidential?
“We intend to have an open, transparent conversation about choices,” Reid responded. And, like the minister, he urged everyone with an interest to submit comments.
Nevertheless, APPrO President Dave Butters said there is a concern about transparency. Long term energy planning is notoriously complex, even for the experts. Now, the final decisions about Ontario’s energy future will be in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats and will be taken behind closed doors.
“We have no idea what the discussion (in cabinet) will be,” he said. Butters noted the LTEP will be unveiled almost exactly one year before the Ontario election, in an atmosphere where ratepayers are angry over high electricity prices.
“The temptation to make it a political document for the 2018 election will be powerful.”
Speaking in a nearly empty room, after the 500+ conference participants had departed Butters reflected on the two days of discussions and came up with two words.
“Uncertainty and politics dominated,” he said. “There’s a big question mark about where we’re going.”