With 59 days left until the Ontario election, the New Democratic Party released its Green Lights energy plan on Saturday.  

Its emphasis on efficiency, conservation and renewable energy is a much needed contribution to the energy debate, which until now has consisted of little more than promises by the Liberals and Tories to build more nuclear stations.

What’s especially commendable about the NDP’s plan is its emphasis on deploying green energy options during the mandate of the next government. It shows the way to meet Ontario’s share of Canada’s Kyoto commitment by an early phaseout of the province’s coal stations. The plan also amounts to a de facto nuclear phaseout.

The centerpiece of both the Liberal and Conservative energy plans is to build more nuclear stations. Such promises ignore the fact that it takes over ten years to build a nuclear station. Promises of more nuclear power will do nothing to phase out coal or keep the lights on.

Aside from the environmental benefits of the NDP plan, its emphasis on government action in the near term, as opposed to far off nuclear projects, means that the voters will be able to hold them accountable for their actions. We won’t be able to hold Dalton McGuinty and John Tory accountable for all the cost over-runs, delays and nuclear waste that will inevitably follow if their nuclear schemes are implemented. These problems typically don’t become known to the public until politicians have been voted out of office.

As for long-term energy planning, the NDP’s commitment to an environmental assessment with a rigorous evaluation of alternatives will make the case for a green energy future. We know that renewable is doable. Other countries in the world are taking the green path, and an open and objective evaluation of our energy options will help push Ontario’s old-school energy planners into the new millennium.

Voters are looking for leadership on environmental issues and future of energy is going to be a key issue in the upcoming election. The NDP plan throws down the gauntlet to other parties to green their own policies.

Reading the newspapers and international newswires this morning, I’d also say the plan’s emphasis on near-term green energy solutions is both smart and practical.

It was announced yesterday that the construction of the Olkiluoto nuclear plant in Finland, the only nuclear station under construction in the Western world, has experienced yet more costly delays.

And here in Ontario, the Toronto Star quotes Greg Smith, senior vice-president of nuclear generation development at Ontario Power Generation (OPG), saying that "Our best conservative estimate is that you'd see the new [nuclear] units come online around 2018."

That’s pretty significant given the environmental reviews have barely begun and that just last year Ontario’s nuclear industry was hoping to get new reactors online by 2014!

The NDP’s promise of no new nuclear plants and ambitiously developing green energy in the near term is good from an environmental perspective. It is also good, plain common sense from an energy planning perspective. It would set us on the path to a carbon-free and nuclear-free future.

Let the election debate begin.