Tim Hudak is under fire for his promise to kill the McGuinty goverment’s Green Energy bill, this time for the possible loss of 200 jobs in London at a Samsung solar panel plant. “We just can’t afford it”, he claims, and plans to kill the proposed subsidy for Samsung. McGuinty, touring another Solar plant, was not impressed and wasted no time attacking him over it.

Putting aside, for a second, the issue of subsidizing foreign multinationals for opening up shops in Ontario, this seems a pretty awful approach to getting cheaper power for Ontario. Solar panels produce electricity, and solar panel factories produce them – so the net effect on our province’s generating capacity is going to be very negative. How is Hudak going to deal with our growing demand for electricity in these days of skyrocketing energy prices? He’ll cut taxes on gas and electricity bills. This way, he can use public money to cushion the blows without actually addressing the questions of energy production behind it.

The allegation that “we can’t afford it”, also, seems strange given his many expensive promises, such as tax cuts and the $35 billion infrastructure budget he’s prepared for building projects like the Mid-Peninsula Highway. Hudak boasts about the state-sponsored job creation which will happen around Hamilton if this highway is created. We may not need it, and it may cost us dearly in land, but this enormous trench filled with money will spur “economic growth”, so why not, eh?

The “jobs” argument can be made for any colossally expensive development boondoggle. Any money the government spends will enter the economy and do something. Frankly, I’m surprised these people don’t just build valleys full of pyramids. Highway development is additionally “useful” because they open up land for development into new suburbs, power-centres and business parks. Given Hudak’s avoidance of spelling out exactly what he plans to do about the Greenbelt legislation he dislikes so much, as well as what happened to suburban expansion during the Harris years, it’s likely that such sprawl is poised to grow even faster.

What does sprawl have to do with solar panels? Other than being a vast energy sink filled with distant, poorly-performing buildings, it’s a dramatic example of just how far some in government are willing to go in subsidizing certain technologies and industries. Solar won’t catch on without subsidies – not because it’s an inferior technology, but because the nastier alternatives (like oil, coal and internal combustion engines) are already heavily subsidized. What’s different about solar is that it encourages local “Energy Autonomy” as described by Hermann Scheer. Though efficient, sustainable and very liberating, this kind of vision isn’t compatible with the kind of profits which today come from fossil fuels, and drive the kinds of industry and development Hudak wishes to see.

Our energy woes stem from the fact that modern-day Canadians have some of the highest rates of per-person energy use on Earth or in history. This is in no small part a result of decisions by governments to invest in models of development and economic growth which require massive amounts of coal, oil and electricity. While I generally detest electoral politics and have no great love for McGuinty, Hudak’s ambitions scare me a lot. Ontario definitely does not need another Common Sense Revolution – but perhaps a bit of common sense would do.

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