Restructuring Canada's electricity: going beyond good intentions

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

Elbert van Donkersgoed is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada. CFFO is supported by 4,500 family farmers across the province of Ontario.

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August 24, 2004: It’s about time Ontario adopted a long-term strategy to reduce our dependence on non-renewable energy for our electricity needs. The Electricity Restructuring Act, 2004, the subject of public hearings throughout August by the Standing Committee on Social Policy of our Provincial Legislature, takes some steps in this direction but lacks clarity and commitment to local production of energy in many communities by small and medium-size entrepreneurs.

In its presentation to the committee last week, the Christian Farmers Federation pointed out that renewable and alternative energy production is a way to bring value to farming without producing more crops or livestock. Done right, the legislation can encourage farm entrepreneurs to diversify into energy production.

First, the legislation needs to guarantee that small and medium-size entrepreneurs will have access to the distribution grid. Language that might result in enabling regulations is not satisfactory. A “right to connect” needs to be specified in the legislation.

Second, the legislation needs to guarantee the basics of a pricing system. The payback period for investments in alternative energy sources is long. Fixed-term price agreements have to be mandated in the legislation. Enabling distributors to buy or invest in renewable or alternative energy sources is not enough. We need a commitment to a pricing system that enables the participation of small and medium-size entrepreneurs in electricity generation.

Third, electricity distributors should be required to accommodate access for small and medium-size electricity generators as they design the electricity transmission grid of the future.

.Fourth, this legislation needs the support of other legislation and provincial policy. For example, energy generation should be recognized as an accessory use for land zoned either agricultural or rural. Zone changes should not be necessary for windmills constructed primarily for on-farm electricity needs. Wind farms, on the other hand, need special attention in land use policy.

If load management, conservation and time-of-day pricing are implemented with care, farm entrepreneurs will find many opportunities to generate energy for their own use, especially during periods of peak electricity demand and higher prices. They have the land base, the entrepreneurial experience and access to many potential energy sources such as biodiesel, ethanol, solar, water and wind.

Our legislators should not be satisfied with making weak promises in the Electricity Restructuring Act. As it stands, the legislation will only require the civil service “to promote the use of cleaner energy sources and technologies….” The act needs to be rewritten so that it will deliver. It needs to create a Renewable and Alternative Energy Bureau with a mandate to guarantee that farmers, countryside landowners and rural communities will be part of the economic potential of redesigning Ontario’s electricity generation.


Notes for CFFO’s presentation to the Standing Committee on Social Policy, Legislative Assembly of Ontario on August 12, 2004, re Bill 100, Electricity Restructuring Act, 2004 can be found at: www.christianfarmers.org/sub_policies_and_issues/

Background on the Ontario Electricity Restructuring Act, 2004 can be found at: www.energy.gov.on.ca/index.cfm?fuseaction=english.news&back



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