Sunday, April 09, 2006

Smart Meters Heading to Ontario Homes

Millions of "smart" meters that help hydro consumers calculate their energy use will be installed in Ontario homes and businesses over the next few years, but critics say the government isn't doing enough to reduce demand.

The meters, included in electricity conservation act amendments that passed into law Monday night, will replace some 4.5 million existing electricity meters by 2010 at a cost of $1 billion to hydro consumers.

The Ontario government claims it's a key part of the power-starved province's strategy to convince people to conserve electricity.

The meters are meant to help electricity users see just how much power they consume during various parts of the day.

The $1-billion price tag to buy, install and run the smart meters will be recouped through a $1 to $4 monthly charge on electricity bills.

But critics say the Ontario government's energy strategy doesn't go far enough to encourage residents to conserve, accusing the Liberals of ignoring the province's conservation potential in favour of the costly pursuit of new nuclear power plants.

A report by the Ontario Power Authority, released in December, estimated it would cost up to $70 billion to ensure Ontario has enough electricity to power the province over the next 20 years. More than half of that money would be spent on nuclear power.

"The OPA's supply mix advice is simply based on too many questionable assumptions to provide a sound basis for the future direction of Ontario's electricity system," said Dr. Mark Winfield, who led the Pembina Institute's evaluation of the OPA recommendations.

His institute claims the OPA "grossly underestimated" the potential for energy efficiency improvements to reduce demand for electricity.

"Proceeding on the basis of the OPA's recommendations without further analysis and meaningful public debate would mean enormous economic, environmental and safety risks for generations of Ontarians."

The OPA report established a "feasible" conservation target of 1,800 megawatts by 2025, in addition to the government's current target to reduce peak demand by five per cent, or 1,350 megawatts, by 2007.

Green groups scoff at that target.

"(Energy) Minister Donna Cansfield must send the OPA back to the drawing board," said Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada.

"This report is worse than useless in terms of being able to make decisions about Ontario's energy future."

May's group worries about the environmental impact of building more nuclear plants, in particular radioactive waste storage and their potentially catastrophic damage in the event of an accident at a plant.

The group is also worried about the cost: nuclear stations at the Darlington site east of Toronto, completed in the early 1990s, went billions of dollars over budget.

Cansfield said she has heard the concerns from anti-nuclear groups but insisted no decisions on new nuclear plants are in place.

"We feel that we've put in place a very exhaustive (review) process," Cansfield said. "They just have another perspective."


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