A former executive with the original developer of the Sarnia Solar farm throws stones at the renewable energy industry in his recently published memoirs
In 2007, Ron Truman, was director of project development for OptiSolar, a California-based company that began developing the large Sarnia solar farm now owned by Enbridge.
It was a job he took late in life after years of working as a speechwriter and communications consultant for the Ontario government and, prior to that, as a freelance writer and photographer for Canadian newspapers and magazines.
In his new book, Polar Bears and Other Scares, Adventures of a Freelance Writer, Truman describes Ontario's approach to electricity as “a dismal tale of incompetent governance, misplaced priorities and pandering to greenies,” according to a press release.
Truman, who lives in Belleville, said he started out organizing town hall meetings for OptiSolar in Tilbury, Petrolia and Sarnia for the solar farms it wanted to build, and was then hired on full-time.
“What we were doing was new and original at the time and the community feedback was largely supportive,” he said in an interview conducted by e-mail.
Truman said he enjoyed his time working in Sarnia, where the solar farm was billed for a time as the world's largest.
But, he added, he was never an idealist about energy.
In his book, Truman writes, “The idealists wished, as hard as they possibly, possibly could, for a world powered by tiny generators cleverly concealed in tinkling brooks, photovoltaic panels activated by healing sunshine, gentle breezes setting picturesque windmills awhirl . . .”
But, Truman said he was always aware that “despite the money the province was investing in solar, they weren't going to get a whole lot of electricity out of it.”
He added, “If you look at the pie graphs that show where Ontario's energy comes from today, solar's contribution is so small that it hardly shows up.”
Truman said his own theory about why Ontario's Liberal Party went so hard for wind and solar energy is tied to the previous 13 years it spent out of power, as well as heat it took from environmentalists for having commissioned the Darlington nuclear generation station.
“Ontario Liberals don't like being out of power, to put it mildly,” Truman said.
“They were subsequently advised to 'hug the tree huggers' and their rash promise to close the coal-powered generating stations prior to the 2003 election was symptomatic of that.”
While working in the solar industry, Truman said, “We all made fun of wind, which blows at the wrong time and doesn't blow when it's needed, is intermittent and needs expensive backup generation idling away.”
Truman said one of his pastimes over the years was taking pictures of abandoned, decaying wind turbines he was encountered on travels from Hudson Bay to Hawaii.
His time working in the solar industry ended when the company he was working for ran into difficulty, and the Sarnia project was sold off.
Truman said he was in rehabilitation following a stroke when a nurse suggested he write about the experience.
He eventually began writing about his life, starting with the beginning of his writing career in the 1970s, and his adventures as a freelancer and consultant in the years that followed.
“Originally the book was for my grandchildren, who know me as their 'crazy' grandpa for all the things I used to do,” he said.
But, he said, Orland French, the former Queen's Park columnist for the Globe and Mail, encouraged him to aim for a wider audience and the book is now available through Friesen Press.
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