Oxford County remains optimistic amidst cuts to green energy programs

By Chris Funston, Woodstock Sentinel-Review

There are no current Oxford County initiatives being funded through cap and trade that haven’t already been paid out. (File photo)

There are no current Oxford County initiatives being funded through cap and trade that haven’t already been paid out. (File photo)

Oxford County’s green energy programs remain safe for now, but there is still some uncertainty about what the future may hold.

While the new provincial Conservative government is dismantling Ontario’s cap-and-trade system and winding down the green programs that relied on those revenues, the immediate impact to Oxford County should be minimal.

Jay Heaman, Oxford County’s manager of strategic initiatives, said a lot of information about these changes is still being reviewed, but he doesn’t believe any current county programs will be affected based on what has been announced.

Last week, the federal government also indicated it would be reviewing $420 million worth of payments to Ontario after Premier Doug Ford announced the end of cap and trade in Ontario. There are no current Oxford County initiatives being funded through cap and trade that haven’t already been paid out. The only program still in the process of being funded through cap and trade is the Workplace Electric Vehicle incentive, which is believed to be far enough along that it shouldn’t be at risk.

With the Progressive Conservative government coming to Ontario, Heaman said it’s an opportunity for Oxford County’s green programs to justify themselves on their own merits.

He believes if Oxford County can demonstrate that implementing smarter uses of resources will gradually reduce the cost impact to taxpayers and municipalities, the programs will take off faster than being based on incentives only.

Heaman said he is looking to speak with provincial government officials soon in order to continue Oxford County’s journey towards renewable energy, but implement the programs in a way that continues to bring economic value to the region. This, he said, will drive the county “to become smarter, more creative and more innovative because we’ll only be able to do it if it makes economic sense.”

“All of the programs the county has established have had an economic value associated with them,” said Heaman. “We’ve tended to focus on environmental, climate change and global warming aspects of them, but the root of the programs have a core economic value.”

Oxford County has been able to make the transition in continuing to increase the energy supply derived from renewable energy resources. This has allowed the region to be less reliant on the volatility of fossil fuels, which creates an economic advantage and a hedge against future price volatility.

“The circular economy concept doesn’t make sense if we continue to mine natural resources, refine them, produce product and then dump it into the ground. That’s a dead-end street. A zero-waste concept will reduce cost, in the long term, to taxpayers by becoming smarter with the way we handle our resources and by turning what would be waste back into product again creating that circular economy,” said Heaman.

Oxford County Warden David Mayberry said regardless of the focus of the provincial government, it doesn’t change the need the county has for its sustainability plan.

Mayberry explained the county struggled under the previous Liberal government as well, despite being more aligned in terms of green energy policy than the new government. The warden said he hoped the Progressive Conservatives don’t hamstring them, or other municipalities, from doing what they believe is best for their communities.

“We know our communities best,” said Mayberry. “We hope they will be a little more willing to say ‘if you’re willing to do the work, we’re willing to let you,’ which is a good thing for us.”