The Mackenzie Institute kicked off its first Breakfast Series event on Thursday, March 8th at 7a.m. The event featured Mr. Anthony Haines, President and CEO of Toronto Hydro, who delivered a highly informative and enlightening presentation on the resilience of Toronto’s electricity system. As a highly-placed professional, and an outstanding representative of his field, Mr. Haines was the ideal candidate to bring in for the inaugural event.
And what an event it was: the Alberta Room at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel was quickly filled by open-minded professionals and industry representatives eager to learn more and report back to their respective organizations.
Once Mr. Haines was in control of the room, he immediately set out to describe the problem of climate change, and illustrate what the long-term effects would be if it were to continue unchecked.
Climate scientists have observed that the average global temperature is about 1ºC higher than it should be, and note that the effects of climate change will be irreversible once it reaches a 2ºC increase. Moreover, if nothing changes about the way we think about and respond to our impact on the climate, the Earth will cross over this 2ºC threshold in 20-25 years. Once this happens, the ice caps will melt and release their stored CO2, which will exacerbate the problem further, and raise sea levels by an estimated 200 feet. To fully drive the point home: if climate change is left unchecked, North America will be virtually uninhabitable by humans within a century.
Mr. Haines was quick to add that climate change is not only a concern for future generations; it has tangible effects that can be felt today. For instance, since the 1950s, instances of flooding have been on the rise. This has become such a problem that it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to purchase flood insurance in Toronto.
Toronto Hydro has been doing its utmost to combat the increased frequency of flooding, spending close to $1 billion on new technology such as breakaway connectors, communication paths, and stainless-steel submersible transformers that makes the grid more resilient. Naturally, the system was designed and built before extreme weather and climate change were a serious problem, so there is much work to be done in this regard. Failure to take adequate preventative measures, according to Mr. Haines, will get very expensive—very fast.
As if the risk of flooding was not enough, the prevalence of serious ice storms warrants further precautions. The last major ice storm was in 2013, and it cost Toronto Hydro about $1.2 million per day to get the lights back on for those customers that were affected. These costs were not passed on to the consumer, and were instead absorbed by investors. Thankfully, lessons learned from the ice storm were compiled in a report that made 24 recommendations on how Toronto Hydro could avoid such a calamity in the future. Mr. Haines proudly reported that all of these recommendations have since been implemented under his watch.
However, Mr. Haines made the distinction that it is one thing to be reactive to a problem, and another thing entirely to be proactive. He continued to say that the best approach to combatting the effects of climate change is to go after the causes. As it stands right now, Canada is going to miss its carbon targets after 2020 unless something changes.
One of the main causes of climate change is the amount of carbon entering the atmosphere due to the combustion of fossil fuels in transportation vehicles. Mr. Haines argued that it is imperative that we tackle this problem first, because not only are internal combustion engines some of the worst offenders, but it would be the easiest to tackle from a cost and technology perspective.
Thankfully, recent innovations in electric vehicle (EV) technology will make this transition easier, but it is not without its obstacles. For one, the infrastructure to support the charging of a massive amount of EVs simply does not yet exist. It is estimated that approximately 7,000 charging stations will be needed in Toronto alone, and thus consumers are reticent to take the first step and purchase EVs en masse. Likewise, the city is unwilling to invest the funds to construct the stations due to low demand. It is a classic “chicken and egg” problem, and yet, Mr. Haines argued, it is more imperative now than ever before that someone take the first step.
As one of the most wasteful cities in the world, Toronto would be well-placed to be a leader in this regard. And there really is no excuse to delay action: the technology required to handle the electricity demands of EVs already exists, and if the existing power generation plants are managed properly there is no need to construct additional facilities for the foreseeable future. Moreover, consumers stand to save approximately $1,500 per year by switching to EVs. It is a win-win-win for all parties involved; the only thing missing is the political will to move this plan into action.