It can’t be an accident that no one likes the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario. It took a lot of work to produce a document with so little content. The major result seems to be that more and more Northerners are talking about seceding from Ontario. I started to think it was a clever scheme by northern loyalist Michael Gravelle to stir up secessionist feelings. Then I realized that he has an even more devious plan. He is trying to trick us into coming up with local growth plans on our own.
It is a fiendishly clever approach. The ministries don’t have the capacity to do a really creative Growth Plan for Northern Ontario. Northerners do have the talent. All the minister has to do is stir them up and let them tell him how to save the Northern economy. I am sure he wants Sudbury to write its own growth plan, the Sault to create a transportation plan, and every community to propose its own green energy plan.
If it is a trick, it is working in the Northeast right now. A group called Green Temiskaming has done some research that the growth plan should have done. The group has come up with a real, detailed, local growth plan based on Northern renewable energy.
Here is how it works.
Towns in Northern Ontario get an allocation of wood waste. They buy a modern, off-the-shelf, European heat and power system. They produce cheap heat and power for their homes. They cut greenhouse gas emissions. They attract new businesses. They save millions of dollars. The plan is so good that I will post it at http://inord.laurentian.ca so that other communities can use it too.
It sounds pretty easy except for two little problems: getting a wood allocation and getting permission to use that modern European system.
Getting biomass for communities is Minister Gravelle’s job. There may be resistance because the rest of the government wants northern power for the south. But let's assume that he does his job.
Getting to use modern technology is a little harder.
Canadians need the best possible biomass technology to develop our bioenergy resources to their full potential in the shortest possible time. The real leaders in this technology are in Europe, where there are perhaps 200 companies manufacturing bioenergy systems. The European standards are high and accepted even outside of the EU. European equipment is rigorously tested for both safety and emissions by independent laboratories.
In Ontario, the Technical Standards and Safety Authority regulates all pressure-retaining components manufactured or used in the province. The TSSA Boiler and Pressure Vessel standards are over 30 years behind European District Heating Standards. They make it virtually impossible to use state-of-the-art European biomass pressure vessels in Ontario.
The Canadian Bioenergy Association wanted to make the new technologies available. It asked Bruce McCallum of Ensight Consulting to recommend regulatory changes to allow state-of-the-art biofuels technology to be deployed in PEI and across Canada (the study is on the web.) According to McCallum, the easy and sensible thing to do is to adopt the Swedish AFS 2002-1 standard. All Minister Gravelle has to do is get cabinet to issue an order in council saying equipment that satisfies this Euro standard can be used without additional permitting in Ontario.
For that we get the world’s best technology, and we get it fast. We get a chance to convert Northern Ontario to cheap green energy. And we get a chance to take the lead in a new North American industry.
We also get rid of a harmful non-tariff barrier and streamline economic development. And Gravelle becomes an economic development superhero for doing one small and easy job.
This analysis is an example of what should have been done for the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario. It describes very specific barriers to development. It calls for specific actions that can be done quickly. It identifies who should do the work.
Green Temiskaming has done some of the minister’s work. Now it is up to the minister. He is the only one who can clear the way so the right technology is available and he is the only one who can make sure communities get access to the biomass they need.
Dave Robinson is an economist with the Institute for Northern Ontario Research at Laurentian