The recent release of the Ontario Auditor General’s critique of the province’s renewable energy policy has rekindled a debate that was brought to the forefront of public attention in the most recent provincial election.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, used strong language to illustrate his interpretation of the report’s findings. He claims that the report was a “scathing indictment” of the Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program and that the “… Auditor General rips [it] apart.” Furthermore, he accosts McGuinty for “…basically giving the finger to the auditor general ,” or put more gently, telling the Auditor general to “take a hike,” when he visited a Samsung-related plant a day after the report was released. (Quotes from Toronto Star article “McGuinty shrugs off auditor’s critique of green energy” available at http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1097966–mcguinty-shrugs-off-auditor-s-critique-of-green-energy)

The report is available online at http://www.auditor.on.ca/en/reports_2011_en.htm and there is a seemingly endless chain of criticism within. While Hudak’s combative and polarizing tone is absent from it, in its place is a recognition that Ontario needs “a balanced and responsible plan with respect to renewable energy that provides Ontarians with a clean, reliable, affordable, and sustainable electricity system,” but this is situated alongside a battery of arguments ultimately concluding that the Ministry of Energy has handled things poorly and needs to do much better.

Detailed criticism can be found within the report itself. However, the general message is that the Ontario government has displayed a lack of comprehensive business-case evaluations motivating their policymaking and the consequence of this is that they are spending considerably more money than necessary on their renewable energy initiatives. As taxpaying citizens we should surely be thankful that the office of the Auditor General is there to keep provincial spending in check and they have identified several cases of potential mismanagement that ought to be brought to public attention.

The report attempted a balanced viewpoint by offering the reader responses from both the Ministry of Energy and the OPA. However, through the all the layers of criticism it is easy to lose sight of the fact that ultimately we are faced with two scenarios: (1) Dramatically change the way we produce energy in response to the looming threat of climate change and resource depletion or (2) Business as usual with heavy dependence on unsustainable carbon-producing energy resources.

Ontario has made the bold decision to pursue the first option. As such, the Auditor General explains to us what has been the cost of acting. However, as thoughtful citizens we also must ask ourselves: what if we chose the second option? What would be the cost of not acting? What if we don’t make an aggressive effort to curb our carbon emissions as the planet continues warms? This is the context that is perhaps missing from the report and it is imperative that we also consider this question alongside the Auditor General’s findings.

-Erik Janssen

(Engineering Physics, MASc, Year 2 at McMaster University)

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