the Star: Short-sighted environmental reporting

Juan Cole: This week’s award for bad environmental reporting goes to John Spear of the Toronto Star for his article on the cost of wind power in Ontario “when we don’t need it.”

Spear manages to write the entire article as though the only comparison between wind power and other energy should be about the conventional pricing, and he continually assumes that green energy is an unneeded add-on. He complains about government essentially subsidizing the start-up costs of wind turbines by paying a relatively high price per kilowatt hour, and brings up the question of over-production of power and the inability of wind to meet high demand on particularly hot, still days as this past August. Spear either has no sense of irony or has never read a book on pollution or climate change, or just doesn’t get it. I couldn’t tell you.
But he manages not to make the connection between the use of coal, natural gas, and petroleum to produce power in Ontario and the highly dangerous levels of air pollution reached in Toronto in late August, not to mention the the extreme heat alert around the same time. That is, he was complaining about the inability of the wind turbines to deal with the air conditioning demand (in Canada!) on hot windless days instead of realizing that the hydrocarbons caused the heat wave in the first place. It is astonishing.
He doesn’t want to factor into the cost of the hydrocarbons the lost lives caused by pollution (and consequent losses to the economy), the effects on health and consequent costs of medical care, and the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change on Canada as more and more carbon is dumped into the atmosphere– even just things like insufficient lumber availability from transformed forests affected by more frequent forest fires and fewer hardwood trees.
Is the 12 cents a kilowatt hour for wind that Spear complains about really such a bad bargain when it produces none of those bad effects? Is it really the case that hydrocarbons are such a steal when they do? Nor does he seem to be aware of the potential positive effects on job-generation of wind energy, as the Nordseewerke shipyard in Emden, Germany, has discovered.
I constantly come across this bad arithmetic (it is not even calculus, just adding and subtracting) in business reporting on alternative energy, and am frankly getting more and more crotchety about it. Spear’s article should have been about why Ontario is still depending so heavily on the hydrocarbon power generation that “we don’t need” and which is actively harming us, not why the pollution-free wind turbines are a government boondoggle. (Maybe he has a point about how the provincial or municipal energy contracts are being let, I don’t know; but if that is the main problem then it isn’t about wind, is it?)