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The climate plan and you

Are you are deeply attached to the synthetic testosterone you get from the roar of carefully tuned exhaust pipes? If you can live without it, you are going to love your new electric car. It will be quiet.
David Robinson, Economist, Laurentian University,

Are you are deeply attached to the synthetic testosterone you get from the roar of carefully tuned exhaust pipes? If you can live without it, you are going to love your new electric car.

It will be quiet. It will be powerful — electric motors deliver more torque than gas engines at low speeds. Overnight charging will be free. There will be charging stations everywhere. Both General Motors and the Province of Ontario are working to put that electric vehicle in your driveway.

You’ll like a lot of other things about the future described in the province’s new Climate Change Action Plan: cleaner air, cheaper heating (once you install more insulation), faster public transit that goes almost everywhere in southern Ontario, jobs for your kids when the Great Housing Retrofit gets underway, opportunities for businesses to sell smart-building technology to schools, hospitals and commercial buildings.

As a Northerner, you will like increased prices for lumber as the building code shifts construction toward low-carbon materials like wood. You may see a huge expansion of value-added production in the wood sector if the minister of Northern development is on the ball.

You may notice a few items that are good for the North that are missing from the plan. There is no promise to promote cross-laminated timber production in the North. Cross-laminated timber sequesters carbon and is much easier to recycle and reuse than the wood in conventional frame construction. It can replace high CO2 concrete and steel in most construction. Northern Ontario should have had pilot projects 10 years ago. Perhaps our Northern Liberals are not speaking up at Queen’s Park.

There is also nothing about supporting research on geothermal energy, one of the most promising ways to reduce natural gas use. Developing geothermal is a huge opportunity for mining communities. There is also only one mention of using biomass to generate energy, and that targets First Nations communities. Queen’s Park missed the whole conversation about biomass and community district heating.

According to the plan, “Ontario is fully committed to complete compact communities.” This could have a real impact on Northern communities that tend to sprawl and be heavily car-dependent. Ironically, Sudbury MPP and energy minister Glenn Thibeault happily announced money for a Sudbury bypass to promote urban sprawl.

The climate plan turns out to be a collection of subsidy programs funded by a small carbon tax. The tax is collected by energy suppliers. Big companies are exempt. Many of the subsidies will have a positive, but fairly limited, effect. Even so, Ontario isn’t pricing carbon. Instead it is using an ineffectual hidden tax to fund programs. The plan is not going to cut emissions much. There are three reasons.

First, the $18-a-tonne price is too low to do the job. Anything less than the social price of carbon amounts to subsidizing carbon fuels. The U.S. government has calculated that price is $US 37/ton ($42 Canadian). Many scientists and economists have presented calculations showing that price may be far too low. By 2050, the world price of CO2 emissions will be $200 a ton. BC is already at $30 a ton and talks are underway to boost it to $50 over the next few years.

Second, under Ontario’s plan, big emitters like cement, petrochemicals, steel and mining companies get exemptions. This is obviously a poor way to cut emissions.

Third, under cap and trade, the province expects the big emitters to buy permits from California and Quebec. The government plans to pump money from Ontario consumers out of the province.

The only carbon-pricing scheme that we know will work is a simple, but high: carbon tax returned directly to consumers. To work well, the plan also needs carbon fees on imports and rebates for exports. The province chickened out, so enjoy your electric car. It will be your favourite part of Ontario’s Climate Plan.