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Another hike on power bill; This one for green energy plan

Source: The Chronicle Journal

TORONTO – Consumers will face higher electricity bills as part of an unprecedented $8-billion plan announced Thursday to create more renewable energy in Ontario.

People can expect an additional $5 per month on their hydro bills by 2012 – the latest in a series of incremental increases to taxpayers’ electricity rates.

Still, Premier Dalton McGuinty said it’s a small price to pay for clean power and the creation of thousands of jobs.

“We’re talking about an increase of one per cent, maybe $5 a month,” McGuinty said after announcing several clean-energy projects.

“On the other hand we’re investing in a new industry that will create jobs and prop up our economy.”

The 184 new projects announced Thursday include 36 community and aboriginal proposals as well as others by major corporations at home and abroad. They will create almost 2,500 megawatts of renewable energy from wind, solar and run-of-river hydro projects.

While McGuinty conceded any increase for consumers “is not insignificant,” he said people would understand the changes are needed to reduce coal-fired generation.

“We’re talking clean energy here, which doesn’t contribute to global warming,” McGuinty said.

“I think Ontarians feel some sense of responsibility as privileged global citizens that should be leading in this.”

Energy Minister Brad Duguid called the announcement the “big step forward’ in green energy.

While he acknowledged clean power is more expensive to produce than coal, he said the government had to create more power in one form or another and “there would have been a cost no matter what.”

“The advantage is we’re not poisoning the lungs of our kids when we use green energy,” Duguid said.

The latest projects are part of the largest green energy investment of its kind in Canadian history. Their total value eclipses the $7-billion deal the McGuinty government signed in January with a consortium led by South Korean industrial giant Samsung Group.

That deal was to build wind and solar farms that will generate 2,500 megawatts of power, as well as four plants to manufacture components for green energy projects, creating about 16,000 jobs – including 1,440 permanent ones.

The Opposition called Thursday’s announcement little more than a “consolation prize for the Ontario businesses that were frozen out” of the Samsung deal.

“The ultimate losers in Dalton McGuinty’s so-called green energy giveaway are Ontario families and businesses who will be forced to pay record electricity tariffs for at least 20 years,” the Progressive Conservatives said in a release.

NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said there was the potential to create even more green energy jobs if the government were to bypass gas-fired and nuclear energy in favour of more clean technology.

The same holds true for affordability, Tabuns said, since consumers would benefit from large-scale action on efficiency conservation.

“The investment in nuclear power and gas-fired power really is huge; it dwarfs anything that we’re talking about in terms of green power,” he said.

“That’s where the action has to come, moving away from those sources and putting a lot more of our eggs back into the efficiency and conservation basket.”

Two weeks ago, the government quietly introduced a new charge to help cover $53 million of the Liberals’ conservation and green-energy program, which is expected to add about $4 a year to the average electricity bill.

A few days later, Ontario Power Generation said it was applying to increase its rates by 9.6 per cent starting next January. That would add about $2.75 to the average monthly electricity bill – all on top of the extra eight per cent consumers will have to pay when the 13 per cent HST takes effect in July.

The $5 extra a month attached to Thursday’s announcement would be in addition to those increases.

The projects announced Thursday will generate enough energy to power 600,000 homes, and are part of a larger initiative to shut down the province’s coal plants – including those in Thunder Bay and Atikokan – by 2014.

Ontario consumers currently pay 5.7 cents per kilowatt hour up to a certain monthly threshold, after which the rate rises to 6.6 cents.

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