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Energy double standard stacks deck against green power
Posted by: Solaricity

Another great article on energy subsidies and volume of scale costs by Tyler Hamilton of the Toronto Star.

Energy double standard stacks deck against green power
By Tyler Hamilton
Toronto Star Energy and Technology Columnist

There was an interesting moment during the provincial leaders’ election debate earlier this week when Premier Dalton McGuinty defended his government’s green energy plan.

McGuinty justified the Samsung deal and green incentives as necessary first steps to creating a vibrant, future-looking job-creation engine for Ontario, and a stable supply of clean electricity to power the devices and gadgets in our homes.

At this point, opposition PC leader Tim Hudak interjected: “But when flat-screen TVs were several thousand dollars a year people didn’t buy them, they waited for the price to come down.”

He was implying that we shouldn’t buy green energy until it costs the same or less than the face value of dirty fossil-fuel or risky nuclear energy, which as we know come with a litany of hidden costs that are rarely discussed or disclosed.

That, in a nutshell, is how conservatives on both sides of the border – from Hudak to the Tea Party – judge green energy technologies.

They consider deployment of such technologies pointless. More resources should instead be focused on research and development, they say, based on a false belief that a laboratory somewhere will come up with a super cheap, emission-free, eco-friendly silver bullet that will suddenly save the day.

To bring this back to Hudak, he would rather wait for an energy miracle. And this is where his flat-screen TV argument falls, well, flat. People did purchase flat-screen TVs when they were thousands of dollars, because if they didn’t the models that today cost a few hundred dollars wouldn’t exist.

Volume begat lower prices, which begat more volume – that’s how it works. The $300 flat screen didn’t suddenly appear out of the ether.

Same goes for computers, cell phones, GPS devices and all the other fancy gadgets we have today and take for granted. These affordable devices and their related services didn’t appear overnight, and most would not exist were it not for early public investments – in the form of tax breaks, loan guarantees, and grants—in the underlying technology companies and infrastructure that made them possible.

The difference here is that the need for clean energy is more urgent than having that giant, low-cost television, so governments around the world are trying to accelerate their deployment to bring down costs. In the process, they’re giving a boost to the creation of new industries and jobs.

The thing that Hudak doesn’t understand is that R&D is one small step in a decades-long journey, regardless of the breakthrough nature of a technology.

Too many people underestimate the grueling path to commercialization. What typically follows R&D are patent filings, demonstration tests, the making of prototypes or construction of pilot plants, environmental impact assessments, and a host of studies required to satisfy regulations and attract the kind of capital that leads to commercial products.

In other words, R&D alone won’t save our collective hides in the near-future. Besides, I would argue we are doing fine in both Canada and the United States when it comes to R&D.

There is no shortage of amazing clean technologies capable of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. I’ve reported on dozens of them in this column.

The problem is not a lack of money flowing into R&D; it’s an unwillingness to take the kind of financial risks and political initiative necessary to demonstrate and deploy the most promising of the hundreds of different clean-energy technologies that exist right now.

“There is no more reliable way of bringing costs down and uncovering new efficiencies than deploying at scale,” Grist Magazine columnist David Roberts recently wrote.