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California's new power diet plan - The Golden State has lessons to share with Ontario on how to avert an energy crisis

Arthur Rosenfeld speaks with the conviction of a man who has seen the incandescent light. As head of the California Energy Commission, he takes a decidedly low-watt approach toward energy savings, espousing staid but effective building codes, appliance standards, and utility-run energy efficiency programs that reward consumers for shopping green.

The three-pronged approach isn't sexy, Rosenfeld says, but it has served California extremely well. And it's this message of conservation and economic payback that he intends to impress upon Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty when he visits the province this week.

Since the mid-1970s, California has experienced a massive growth of its electricity grid, accommodating everything from bigger refrigerators and stoves to larger homes. Yet, thanks to aggressive regulations and incentives, California's annual per capita energy consumption has consistently hovered in the range of 7,000 kilowatt-hours, while usage in the rest of the country has risen from 8,000 kilowatt-hours per person in 1975 to 12,000 today. "We all have access to the same information," Rosenfeld says, "and yet somehow we managed to stay flat, and they managed to go up 50 per cent in the last 30 years."

If Rosenfeld gets his meeting with McGuinty -- late last week, the Sierra Club of Canada, which is organizing the visit, was still working on the scheduling -- he intends to preach the "miracle" of government regulation. Refrigerators, for instance, are about 20 per cent bigger today than they were in the early... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
 The three-pronged approach isn't sexy, Rosenfeld says, but it has served California extremely well. And it's this message of conservation and economic payback that he intends to impress upon Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty when he visits the province this week.

Since the mid-1970s, California has experienced a massive growth of its electricity grid, accommodating everything from bigger refrigerators and stoves to larger homes. Yet, thanks to aggressive regulations and incentives, California's annual per capita energy consumption has consistently hovered in the range of 7,000 kilowatt-hours, while usage in the rest of the country has risen from 8,000 kilowatt-hours per person in 1975 to 12,000 today. "We all have access to the same information," Rosenfeld says, "and yet somehow we managed to stay flat, and they managed to go up 50 per cent in the last 30 years."

If Rosenfeld gets his meeting with McGuinty -- late last week, the Sierra Club of Canada, which is organizing the visit, was still working on the scheduling -- he intends to preach the "miracle" of government regulation. Refrigerators, for instance, are about 20 per cent bigger today than they were in the early 1970s, but due largely to tough standards in California, they now use one-quarter the energy they once did, saving about US$17 billion worth of power. "The value of all the nuclear energy in the country is only $23 billion," Rosenfeld says. "One or two more updates in the refrigerator standards and we'll bypass the economic value of the nuclear fleet."

By saving energy, California today avoids adding 18 million tons of atmospheric carbon to its annual emissions, carbon that would have been released by burning natural gas to produce electricity. That's the equivalent to getting 12 million cars off the road, Rosenfeld says. He estimates state consumers save US$12 billion, or US$1,000 per family, annually. These are lessons Ontario needs to learn.

Peak summer demand, and the constant threat of brownouts, already force the province to buy premium-priced electricity from coal-fired plants in Michigan and Ohio. This is partly why the Ontario Power Authority issued a report last December recommending spending $40 billion to build more nuclear power capacity to meet energy demands for the next 20 years. However, critics note the report failed to address any long-term strategy for conservation. (A decision on whether to proceed with more reactors could come as early as next week.) Recently, Ontario Energy Minister Donna Cansfield warned of rolling blackouts by 2008, and is backing a plan to build a huge natural-gas power plant in Toronto's derelict portlands, a project strongly opposed by the city's mayor and local residents.

Ontarians, of course, can already buy energy-efficient refrigerators. Where the province can make substantial energy-saving inroads is with its current review of the building code, says John Bennett, a senior policy adviser to the Sierra Club. But Bennett says what's being proposed falls far short of the example set by California's tough building standards. Heating water accounts for 14 per cent of residential electricity use in Ontario. Changing the code to require a solar-energy, hot-water system in new homes to preheat the water before it goes to the electric tank, says Bennett, "can save upwards of two-thirds of the costs." Instead, Ontario wants to restore regulations to their 1992 levels (they were watered down in the late 1990s). The only improvement over those outdated rules will require contractors to use slightly better windows, Bennett says. "It's basically a huge compromise. We're kissing the building industry's butt."

Ontario will likely have to build extra generating capacity soon. Environmentalists argue some of that needs to be renewable -- wind, solar, geothermal etc. Some observers recommend a dispersed network of smaller plants rather than the massive generating facilities that tend to suffer from the built-in inefficiency of being too far from customers. But NIMBYism likely makes this option politically unpalatable. It is far easier for a politician hoping to be re-elected to locate a new nuclear reactor beside an existing one than it is to convince dozens of municipalities to welcome a micro power plant, nuclear or otherwise, into their backyard.

California is now going after household gizmos like cordless phones, garage-door openers, electric toothbrushes and fax machines, forcing manufacturers to reduce the electricity these devices draw when not in use. "It's that sort of thing that Ontario can do," Rosenfeld says. "In fact, all it has to do is copy our legislation." But, as summer nears and the political wrangling intensifies, it seems Ontario may be destined to fade to black.


Source: http://www.macleans.ca/tops...

MAR 24 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/1859-california-s-new-power-diet-plan-the-golden-state-has-lessons-to-share-with-ontario-on-how-to-avert-an-energy-crisis
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