Environmentalists, automakers applaud Ontario's $8.3B climate change plan

Ontario's climate change plan, which will provide billions of dollars in subsidies and incentives to businesses and homeowners, was greeted with cautious optimism Wednesday by environmentalists and businesses.

Environmental Defence calls Liberals' plan 'positive development in climate action'

Business leaders, labour groups and environmentalists welcome a provincial plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 2:08

Ontario's climate change plan, which will provide billions of dollars in subsidies and incentives to businesses and homeowners, was greeted with cautious optimism Wednesday by environmentalists and businesses.

The province will spend up to $8.3 billion on a range of programs to encourage people and companies to switch to more energy-efficient heating systems, buy electric or hybrid cars, convert big trucks to natural gas, add more bio-fuel to gasoline, and help the agriculture and industrial sectors adopt low-carbon technologies.

Most of the money is expected to come from a cap-and-trade program for industrial polluters that the Liberal government expects will raise $1.9 billion a year. All of the cap-and-trade money will go into a dedicated fund for lowering Ontario's carbon footprint.

Two groups representing automakers said continued rebates of up to $14,000 for electric vehicles, free overnight charging for four years, and a "cash-for-clunkers" program to get older cars off the roads will help create consumer demand for EVs.

"The rebates, combined with looking at renewable fuels, is sort of a broad-based approach to reducing emissions overall from the transportation sector," said David Adams, president of Global Automakers of Canada.

"Many of the initiatives announced today will help consumers understand that electric vehicles are part of the future, of their future," said Mark Nantis of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association.

However, the manufacturers want more details on the cap-and-trade plan, which will take effect in January when Ontario joins an existing carbon market with Quebec and California.

"In our industry, many of the investment decisions are upon us now, so there's many details that we have to work out in collaboration with the government," added Nantis.

Patrick DeRochie of Environmental Defence called the Liberals' plan "a very positive development in climate action."

Greenpeace said Ontario is on the right track by trying to phase out fossil fuels and encourage construction of "net zero" carbon homes, and by recognizing that climate change is an opportunity as well as a threat.

"Lots of bad things will happen if we don't break our addiction to fossil fuels, but there are also a lot of good things — green jobs, cleaner air — that come with action on climate change," said Greenpeace Canada spokesman Keith Stewart.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development, a non-profit research group, strongly supports the plan to put cap-and-trade revenues back into actions that will help lower greenhouse gas emissions.

"We hope that these provincial strategies will bolster our federal leaders' efforts to develop a national action plan on climate change, including an ambitious cross-country price on carbon emissions," said Institute spokesman Amin Asadollahi.

The Pembina Institute, a clean energy think-tank, said the government is "grappling with the tough choices" required to meet its emission reduction targets.

"By providing both the ambition, and the required support to businesses and consumers, this is a gold step towards our climate goals," said Pembina's Eli Angen.

Details on rebates for home retrofits will come later, but Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray said no one will have to get rid of their natural gas furnace or old car until they're ready.

"We're not forcing anyone to do this. The incentives are quite generous because it's not revenue neutral," he said. "We want people to avoid the carbon price in the future, and the way you do that is to use very low or non-carbon emitting fuels and technologies in your homes and transportation systems."

Some builders in Ontario already produce low or net zero carbon homes, added Murray.

The Progressive Conservatives called the plan "a laundry list of Liberal promises" based on money the government doesn't even have yet.

"I was very concerned today at the manner in which they continually dodged what this is really going to cost Ontarians," said PC environment critic Lisa Thompson.

Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner said Ontario needed bold action on climate change 10 years ago, but he's concerned the Liberals' plan favours businesses, especially big polluters who will get exemptions early on in the cap-and-trade plan.

"One hundred of Ontario's largest polluters are getting a free pass on the cap-and-trade plan, and it looks like most of the financial benefits are going to business and not individuals," said Schreiner. "So is this fair to the people of Ontario?"

Among the details of the plan announced Wednesday morning: 

  • Electric vehicles: Rebates of up to $14,000 will be offered until 2020 to make leasing or buying an electric vehicle more affordable. There will also be moves to add more public charging stations at workplaces, in city cores and at parking spaces for apartments and condos. By 2018, new homes in Ontario will come ready with a power outlet in their garages — similar to a stove plug — to help Ontarians avoid costly electrical retrofits in the future. 
     
  • In homes and buildings: The government plans to offer rebates that will encourage homeowners and businesses to install green technology such as solar water heating, better windows and geothermal heating. Starting in 2019, homeowners who sell their houses in Ontario must first have an energy audit, to be paid for by the province. The province also wants to take steps through "legislative and/or regulatory change" to make sure landlords don't just pass on the cost of any retrofits to tenants. 
     
  • Vehicles The province will introduce a "cash for clunkers" program in a move to get older, less efficient vehicles off the road. The province also aims to increase the volume of renewable content — such as ethanol — in gasoline. 

Wynne said the plan addresses the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gases and slow global warming.

"Lowering our carbon footprint is going to take time; it isn't going to happen overnight or as a result of heavy-handed rules," Wynne said. 

Murray said Tuesday the government's plan will add about $5 a month to home heating bills and 4.3 cents a litre to the price of gasoline.

With files from CBC News