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Ontario needs community-based renewable power, says alum

Ontario needs community-based renewable power, says alum

The establishment of a community-based renewable power industry in Ontario was one of the hot topics at the final 2011-2012 Sustainable Energy Initiative (SEI) seminar at the Osgoode Professional Development Centre in Toronto.

Anton Tabuns (MES/JD '11), now an articling student at Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers, discussed his major research paper on community-based renewable power and how it could be established in Ontario. He looked at three European examples and investigated how a feed-in tariff system could foster the development of renewable energy and community power projects in this province.  In contrast to public or privately owned power plants, community power refers to renewable energy installations that are completely or partially owned and controlled by residents.

Right: From left,  Ian Rice, Faculty of Environmental Studies Dean Barbara Rahder, Mark Winfield, Anton Tabuns and Sarah Martin at the conclusion of the 2011-2012 Sustainable Energy Initiative seminar series

He also made several recommendations on how Ontario’s energy system could be amended to promote investment for renewable energy projects. Tax deductions, curtailing the province’s dependence on nuclear energy and public education/awareness campaigns for renewable energy were strategies he encouraged.

Tabuns was one of several alumni from York’s master in environmental studies (MES) program who presented research to students, faculty and industry professionals.  The 2011- 2012 Sustainable Energy Initiative seminar series drew to a close with a showcase of the best of student and faculty accomplishments in recent sustainable energy research.

The seminar series kicked off in September with Harry Lehmann, general chair of the World Council for Renewable Energy setting the bar high as the SEI inaugural keynote speaker. Presenters for the remainder of the season did not disappoint, as the SEI delivered a full schedule of monthly seminars, discussing relevant and timely issues in a rapidly developing field.

At the final SEI seminar, Sarah Martin (right) (MES '11) also discussed her research from her MES degree, along with internship experiences at the World Wind Energy Association (WWEA) and World Resources Institute (WRI). Her major paper examined the case for community power projects, applying her own sustainability assessment criteria to assess Ontario’s history with community power. In her Bonn, Germany internship as a WWEA working group coordinator, Martin spoke directly with those involved in community power projects around the world. She learned about the successes and challenges of newly implemented programs in Japan, Australia, South Africa and India.

Martin laid out specific recommendations for India’s energy policies, which resulted from her internship research. Recommendations included consumer rebates and education programs on energy efficient appliances, tax deductions for business-sector energy audits and consumer awareness on the negative effects of coal as an energy source. Martin currently works as a research assistant with WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative, where she continues to evaluate electricity policies in developing countries.

Ian Rice (MES '11), a policy analyst at the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s (ECO) office, also presented at the seminar. His major paper focused on a cap-and-trade system in Ontario – a program involving partnerships with several other provinces and US states under the auspices of the Western Climate Initiative.

Left: MES student Sindy Singh was one of several students at the event to learn about recent student and faculty research in sustainable energy

Rice suggested that while it is likely that current policies in Ontario will help it achieve the 2014 target of reducing greenhouse gases to six per cent below levels in 1990, the longer term goal of decarbonizing the economy is unlikely to be achieved without renewed policy effort. According to Rice, this effort should consist of a new Climate Change Action Plan focused on four key tenets: economy-wide carbon pricing; infrastructure investment; public support for research and development; and aggressive regulatory standards to reduce energy demand.

York Faculty of Environmental Studies Professor Mark Winfield concluded the seminar, discussing his new book Blue-Green Province: The Environment and Political Economy of Ontario, which examines the evolving relationship between environmental and economic policy in Canada’s largest province. Winfield also discussed the current political climate. He noted parallels between the current federal government’s approach to environmental issues, and those seen during the “Common Sense Revolution” period from 1995 to 1999 in Ontario.

“In both cases, the governments involved have regarded the environment as unimportant, and as an area where major budgetary reductions and ‘streamlinings’ of regulatory frameworks can take place without serious consequences,” Winfield said. “Both governments have tended to be repeatedly blindsided by environmental issues as a result.” Winfield stated this to be a factor in the 2003 provincial defeat of the Progressive Conservative government and he further cautioned “it remains to be seen how the same dynamics will play out at the federal level.”

With the conclusion of its 2011-2012 seminar series, SEI is hard at work assembling a lineup for 2012-2013 to present additional issues at the forefront of sustainable energy research and development.

For future events and updates, visit the Sustainable Energy Initiative website.

Submitted by Imelda Nurwisah, FES communications graduate assistant

Republished courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.