By Dan Rankin
The Perth County Federation of Agriculture held its 2016 Annual Meeting last Friday, Oct. 14 at the Mitchell Golf Club, with guest speaker Ian Nokes, Energy & Environmental Economic Policy Analyst for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, giving an update on energy issues relevant to Ontario’s agriculture sector.
PCFA Perth North director Tim Halliday introduced the speaker, saying he had heard Nokes described as “the OFA’s minister of energy.”
One of the first topics Nokes took on was that of expanding rural access to natural gas. “Provincially, we’re having reviews of natural gas expansion,” he said. “I’m sure you’ve all heard about it. A couple of years ago, the government initially announced they would be supplying funds to help facilitate that, but the Ontario Energy Board is doing a review to see just how that is supposed to be done.”
Most people in the know are under the impression that the energy board’s findings will be released by the end of October, he said. “We’re eager to hear [those findings],” said Nokes. “We hope and anticipate that they want to go forward with it, but we have to sit and wait.”
Perth South Deputy Mayor Jim Aitcheson told the Independent this week that, as someone who already has natural gas heating for his “big old farm house,” farmers “should be very keenly interested in it, because the savings are phenomenal.”
“I’m going to guess that my heating costs in the winter are about 10 percent of what they are before,” he said, saying that his bill for an exceptionally cold winter month has fallen to $132 from about $1,300.
“The big thing is, if you save so much heating your house, think how much you save running a dryer or heating a chicken barn,” Aitcheson said. “Thousands of dollars.”
Ontario residents are also currently weighed down by the highest electricity rates in North America, Nokes said. “The only other State that has higher electricity prices is Hawaii,” he said.
The provincial government recently made steps to address this issue somewhat, Nokes said, when they announced they would provide a rebate on electricity bills equal to the Ontario portion of the HST. “It works out to something in the range of $500 million,” he said. “So, it’s big dollars, but individually averages out to about $130 a year.” The OFA would like to see the province go further, he said.
“We need to be able to get a farm rate for farmers,” said Nokes, explaining that this could be as simple as providing two-tiered rates to farmers with farm business registration numbers. “Farmers are the best at investing in economic development of any industry in Canada. So, it’s not money just thrown away.”
OFA also has an interest in what the
province does with its profits from selling shares of Hydro One, Nokes said. “The proceeds from those funds are not sufficient to cover the debt of Ontario Hydro, so instead they’re being invested
in ways to try to focus on infrastructure development, economic development, and hopefully it will return some funds back to Ontario,” he said, pointing out that most of those dollars will be focused in urban centres. “Almost 50 percent of the assets of Ontario Hydro are rural Ontario. We funded them, and now the proceeds of the sale are going towards other investments. We encourage people, when they speak to their politicians, to bring that up, and say, ‘we’d kind of like to see some of those funds reinvested in rural Ontario.’ It seems fair.”
If the province did want to use some of those profits to improve infrastructure in rural Ontario, Nokes said, an effective way would be to invest in natural gas expansion. “The ministry of infrastructure has got $230 million that they want to throw towards natural gas expansion,” he said. With another $450 million, the province could get Enbridge and Union Gas projects into over 130 communities, reaching 700,000 rural customers, he said.
Other issues discussed by Nokes included renewable energy, and the development of district energy hubs to grow the use of bio-diesel in rural Ontario. He also encouraged people to visit Ontario.ca/energytalks before Dec. 17, where the public can go to submit ideas and concerns to the provincial government for its long term energy plan.
Perth-Wellington MP John Nater and Perth County Warden Mert Schneider were also both in attendance last Friday.
PCFA president Joanne Foster announced that the Second Annual Perth County Harvest Gala is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 19 at the Stratford Rotary Complex. Tickets are on sale now. Individual tickets cost $60 each, while a table of eight costs $400. For tickets contact a PCFA County Director or the PCFA office.