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Going Green Shouldn't Be A Political 'Get Out Of Jail Free' Card

04/19/2017 10:16 EDT | Updated 04/19/2017 10:19 EDT

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is being forced to weaken its commitment to climate change. It may seem problematic, but bring it on. The climate change debate in the energy sector is a distraction pursued by people who profit from energy inefficiency to detract from their product shortcomings.

De-emphasis on climate change from the EPA is a blessing, it changes the argument to the economic benefits of energy use and forces conservation advocates to demonstrate how you save green while going green. When better energy use has economic merit, only then you can find a way to influence everyone's energy choices. The added benefit is that going green can no longer be a "get out of jail free" card for political mistakes. We cannot let Cap and Trade become a punishment for good intentions the way the Feed-In Tariff became the FIT Tax.

kathleen wynne

Premier Kathleen Wynne during question period at Queen's Park, Feb. 21, 2017. (Photo: Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Besides, long term, the best strategy to win against those who argue against global warming is to sell the benefits of better energy use in a way that fits their belief system. People do not go green to save the world. Or to stop climate change. They go green to save green.

Energy efficiency and renewable power choices can save money and keep your business competitive. In fact, to run a modern economy, power needs to be cheap and on. When power is neither, or only one of these things, then those running the electrical system have failed to do their job.

If people change their lights and use more energy-efficient appliances, who cares if they believe in climate change? The focus should be on demonstrating how they are freeing up money for other spending, protecting their jobs by making their workplace more competitive and slowing the expensive expansion of the power system. The result will be lower energy use now, without delays.

The message is that energy efficiency saves money, protects your job and helps keep your taxes down. It aligns not only with energy efficiency, but with the best corporate practices of cost reduction. I call it the MATH of Energy Efficiency:

  • Measure your energy use,
  • Analyse how it is being used,
  • Target viable projects and viable power generation opportunities, and to
  • Hone in on new projects as they become make economic sense.


The process aligns with both the scientific method and with the best practices of corporate cost reduction. Combined with the premise that people are basically smart and thoughtful, you teach people how to use their math and science knowledge to evaluate their energy use. Give them the tools to find a better light bulb, then refrigerator, and eventually other electronic items that can reduce their cost of energy. When people reduce their costs and feel confident in the ability to analyze the costs of energy use, they will seek to reduce their costs more, and market forces will dictate reduced carbon footprints as a byproduct.

There are simple choices people can make better right now.

efficient lightbulb

(Photo: Masterzphotois via Getty Images)

An old-style 60W light uses about $15/yr in electricity for most people. An LED bulb uses about $3/yr, lasts 10 to 20 years and costs about $5 at the big-box store. Do you make that switch? Probably.

A 30-year-old 60 per cent furnace burns $2,000/yr in gas to heat a home; that means $800/yr goes up the stack in wasted heat. A new 95 per cent efficient furnace would cost ($1,200/.95) about $1,265/yr for the same heating. If the new furnace costs $5,000, how long would you have to use it to get your money back, saving $735/yr? Do you make that switch? Depends on your payment options for most people.

Once people become comfortable with simple choices, then they will begin to understand more complicated choices.

The promise of solar power is cheap, limitless energy. Its value is limited when you overpay.

Solar power sounds great. But does it work for everyone? I get that Californians can solve their energy needs with solar. Energy use peaks in the summer with air conditioning and decreases in the winter. But how about people in Sudbury, Ont., where the sun is powerless in the winter and there is limited AC and seasonal power use in the summer? Good luck keeping warm with a solar-based electrical system. The promise of solar power is cheap, limitless energy. Its value is limited when you overpay.

Recently, the U.S. has also made it easier to use coal to produce power. This can reduce the immediate cost of power generation. But burning coal releases dangerous substances that damage health. Numbers supported by work from the World Health Organization state that for every trillion kWh of coal power generated, 175,000 people die from breathing-related illnesses. So, the questions people must be asking are: are the health risks and personal costs worth the cost of cheaper power generation? Or can you control the emissions released from burning coal to reduce the health risk? Or is this the inhaler that makes you look sexy?

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Nuclear power can be risky, especially near fault lines. Despite scary accidents, death from nuclear power per kWh produced is lower than hydropower, with Chernobyl and Fukushima included. Unlike solar, it shows up, all the time, when people need it, and works no matter where you live. But the benefits of improved air quality may be offset by risks of storing spent nuclear fuel and catastrophic accidents. The risk from nuclear should never be ignored, but it must be compared to the relative danger, costs and benefits of alternatives.

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Risk analysis should be part of the energy choices that you and your government make. Energy generation and efficiency should be invested in with cost justification. Installing solar on your roof is pointless if it can't provide power when you need it, or you can't use it when the power goes out. Going green is never justifiable without economic value. Foolish FIT over investments to combat climate change made at exorbitant costs were dubious on the heels of failed programs in Germany and Spain.

The FIT Tax not only reduced the perceived value in green investment, but increased energy costs and reduced your capacity to make future investments. Investment without analysis and understanding is gambling, and it's time Wynne's government stepped away from the table, unless they can demonstrate how we won't pay the first mover disadvantage for Cap and Trade. The only way to truly go green, is to save green.

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