Ottawa resident Ricardo Borba fuels up his Nissan LEAF in September 2011. Borba was the first Canadian to buy the all-electric car.
Credits: Tony Caldwell/QMI Agency
Green energy alternatives are nothing more than expensive fantasies, at least for now. Wind farms, acres of solar panels and ponds of bio fuel are, by and large, uneconomic without huge, direct subsidies from taxpayers.
There may come a day when non-carbon fuels make financial sense, but for now alternate-energy projects are simply money pits. And the private companies that politicians hail as pioneers in "clean" energy are mostly just subsidy miners. They've simply figured out how to make money by extracting big grants from crusading politicians eager to prove their environmental bona fides by spending other people's money.
Take hydrogen fuel cells, for instance. The previous Liberal government pumped billions into technology that, they insisted, would convert gasoline and diesel vehicles to low-emission hydrogen. So how did that work out? Where can I buy a hydrogen SUV?
Like most clean-energy dreams, the "promise" of a hydrogen-fuelled future keeps slamming up against immutable realities. For instance, no one has yet figured out how to make hydrogen give up more energy than it takes to convert hydrogen to fuel. Say, for example, it takes 10 units of carbon energy to force eight units of energy out of hydrogen. No matter how many tax dollars go into research, manufacturers still have a 20% deficit on each energy unit produced.
Then there's the fact that there are about 7,000 retail gas stations in Canada and almost no hydrogen stations. Where would you fuel up your eco-mobile even if you could buy one?
Then there's the problematic little fact that many "clean" energies aren't that clean.
Electric cars, as an example, need to be charged. The power to charge them has to come from big generating plants, which means that while electric cars themselves emit no pollution, they cause as much or more pollution to be created from power generation.
And solar panels are dirty to make. Toxic waste is generated during their manufacture, which is one of the biggest reasons most of them are made in China and the developing world rather than in the eco-conscious West.
All of this may explain why Europe is backing away from huge alternate-energy subsidies. Having spent tens of billions of dollars bribing Germans to attach solar panels to every house, apartment and shed in the country, the Berlin government is now ending most such subsidies because the effort simply has not generated enough power to allow conventional electric plants to be closed.
Even the EU energy commissioner is set to recommend next month to the Union's governing body that European subsidies, too, be scaled back by at least 30%.
So it should come as no surprise that University of Alberta energy economist Andrew Leach calculated this week that for Alberta homeowners who choose their utilities‚ current offers to lease solar panels for their rooftops will save no money over the life of their contracts. The panels may be fashionable symbols of a homeowner's commitment to the environment, but they can cost upwards of $4,300 more than conventional electricity over a 15-year contract.
This has been the experience in Ontario, too, where the government of Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty has spent billions upon billions on green energy only to find the alternatives have generated little new energy, created few truly new jobs and saddled taxpayers with subsidies to alternate-energy providers that will continue for decades. Just about all Ontario has to show is power rates that are higher by 30-40%.
The province may have thousands of new panels glinting in the sun, but no economical way to get the power to consumers.
It's time to stop bilking taxpayers and consumers for "green" dreams that never materialize.