Thursday, August 3, 2006

Hands in my pocket: Ontario Power remix

Ontario is still under a power consumption warning today. Yesterday, we set an all-time record for power usage during one five minute period -- 27,098 MW at 5 PM. That's about as much power as all of Hamilton uses in an entire day. During the one hour before, the market price for power hit 31.776 cents per kilowatt hour (a kWh is the amount of power needed to light a 100 watt bulb for 10 hours). Bear in mind the consumer price is regulated at 5.7 cents so everything above that is paid for by the taxpayer.

The old standbys -- surplus power from such places as Québec, Manitoba and Michigan -- were all out because their systems too were being strained to the limit from demand. And even if they were available, they charge top dollar.

I've mentioned it previously, but it needs saying again -- we just can't rely on new plants. We need a massive shift in thinking about conservation. Check the skylines of most Ontario cities -- the skyscrapers keep all their lights on at night even though they are not necessary and also a threat to migratory birds in flight. And do we really need bone-chilling shopping malls and offices? For that part, what's with people at home keeping their climate control systems so low? Some may need it for health reason, but most dont'. I for one set my A/C at home at 27 degrees C, much higher than what I would deem comfortable but cool enough so I'm not sweating to death.

A couple of other sensible things -- one, unplug the beer fridge. I did that a few years back, long before deregulation, and in one month my power bill dropped twenty percent. Also the freezer -- if you're not using it, unplug that too. It's money down the drain -- and it means higher taxes for everyone.

It's a two way street, however. At least there are some who are doing their part for conservation. It's time the government did the same with their offices as well as an overall strategy to make sure the lights stay on. As a first step, maybe -- just maybe -- we should do what Québec did after the ice storm and put some kind of a firewall to stop a chain reaction of blackouts like what happened in 2003. We all remember the lights went out in Ottawa but not in Gatineau. Then we can talk about responsible ways about generating what we need -- and nuclear should be a last resort, not a first choice.

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