And yet another alternative view

promisesMany Ontarians, especially those of a Conservative bent, are cheering the news that former Hydro One CEO Mayo Schmidt and the entire Hydro One board of directors have resigned. Doing something about electricity rate was a cornerstone of the Doug Ford campaign and this is an early check in the “promise made : promise kept” box.

But in a column in the Globe and Mail, veteran business journalist Andrew Willis throws cold water on the Conservatives’ celebrations pointing out that “executive pay at Hydro One has next-to-no impact on electricity rates. The price of power reflects years of policy decisions about nuclear and renewable generation facilities,” … [and that] … “The people of Ontario, the folks that Mr. Ford says drive his decisions, are going to realize that new, weaker leaders at Hydro One are no cure for what ails the province. They’ll know it because their monthly electricity bills are going to remain stubbornly high until political leaders take real action on problems that were decades in the making.”

I agree with those points: what ails electrical supply and demand in Ontario has nothing to do with how much Mr Schmidt was paid … what is driving our prices up were decisions taken over the past 20+ years, mostly by Liberal governments (but also by Conservatives) to phase out coal fired electrical production without having adequate domestic hydro-electric or, better yet, nuclear capacity to replace them, and to try to ‘grow’ a green-energy infrastructure instead.

I understand that many Ontarians, many Canadians fear nuclear energy … there has been a massive campaign against nuclear power since the 1950s. There are problems, real problems, with the safe transport and (very long term) storage of spent nuclear fuel, but they are not orders of magnitude more difficult to address than, say, the impact of damming rivers, the issue of “clean coal” or the economics of solar and wind power.

Back at the end of the 20th century Ontario needed a combination of good science and engineering driven by a coherent political vision of the HUGE role that energy for-rural-life-story-by-tom-spears-tom-spears-photo2production and distribution plays in our world … Ontario had neither. We got a partially private Hydro One and a mish-mash of half baked, politically driven, energy ideas.  Mr Schmidt may not have done all that he could or should have done … but I’m not sure that Dalton McGuinty or Kathleen Wynne were willing to listen to anyone … they had the green fever and were hell bent imposing impossible conditions on Ontario consumers. Jobs are leaving Ontario because businesses cannot afford to operate here under the existing electrical power rates, some people cannot afford to use electricity in their homes and pay for their food. That’s the real challenge for Premier Doug Ford.

Mayo Schmidt and the Hydro One board were a symptom; the disease is buried deeply in Ontario’s anti-nuclear psyche. Premier Ford needs to bring in a first rate (and doubtless well paid) team of executives who will put Ontario on the right, practical course for the 21st century.

I wish Premier Ford and his new, Conservative government nothing but the best … but this, securing the resignations of Mayo Schmidt and the Hydro One board, is just a bit of political theatre … what’s needed is hard political work to put Ontario back to work and that means reversing many, many poor political and policy decisions and putting in pace an energy strategy that powers the province at affordable rates. I generally favour private utilities over public ones, and I have no problems with electrical power generation and distribution being in private hands and being done for the long term benefit of the shareholders because a well run private utility will, without fail, produce reliable, affordable power if it is given the licence to generate power in the best possible ways. Premier Ford needs to help persuade Ontarians that power can be safe, environmentally friendly, abundant, affordable and generated here at home.

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