The Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) entered into agreements under the Ontario Power Authority’s (OPA) renewable energy feed-in tariff program. The program pays participants for electricity they provide to the power grid through means such as roof-mounted photovoltaic (PV) panels. My cottage is on an island off the electrical grid and I have been a PV system owner and user since 1992, so I have a fair understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of solar electric panels. I believe that as technology advances such panels will one day generate a significant percentage of the electricity used in Ontario. However, that day is likely twenty years away and the OCDSB and OPA schemes are wrong in science, economics and principle.
The science of photovoltaics is advancing like most technologies do, in the shape of an S-curve (see the curve for broadband penetration below). In the innovation phase the product is very expensive and few people use it. If it achieves mass market viability and passes 10% adoption, there is a rapid growth phase where the costs decline rapidly and adoption by users rises rapidly. In the maturity phase, most of those who will adopt have already done so and incremental improvements are the hallmark. Photovoltaics are way below the 10% market penetration level because the technology is still primitive. There is a great deal of research being done and some researchers hope to double the efficiency of panels in the next several years. A true breakthrough would be a method of producing much more efficient panels from common, inexpensive materials. Some envision a flexible roll of material as cheap as roof shingles that could cover the roof of every home. Alas, we are still a long way from that, and according to the S-curve the cost of power from solar panels will reach par with conventional sources in about 2030. From a scientific angle we have a long way to go and installing panels on schools teaches students that the current state of scientific fact is secondary to the wishes of social engineers.
Science leads me to economics: since the technology is still so primitive, conventional methods of producing electricity are far more economical than using PV panels. Solar panels suffer from the major weaknesses of inefficiency (commercial panels have 10% to 20% energy conversion efficiency) and inconsistency (only produce when exposed to sunlight). Under the OPA micro-fit program people who produce electricity from PV panels will be paid about 2,000% more than the normal electricity price. If your usual electrical bill is about $150/mo and you had to pay the rate that PV users will be paid, your bill would be $3,000 per month! To the government’s surprise, offering to pay people twenty times the going rate has motivated thousands to install panels on their roof. The money used to pay the solar producers must first be taken from the general population, so the people who can see that solar power is economically irrational and have chosen not to use it are being forced to pay the people who see a way to take advantage of their fellow citizens using the power of the state. This teaches students that government is a tool to be used against citizens for the benefit of those who can manipulate political power.
Both science and economics are a part of philosophy, our method of identifying reality and determining good from bad. The decisions of the OPA and OCDSB are not only based on flawed science and irrational economics but depend on actions that violate the individual rights of citizens and so are wrong in principle. The OPA itself was created because government dictated so, not because the market asked for it through the freely chosen demand of customers. Of course, the same applies to the OCDSB monopoly. The program to pay people irrational amounts of money for primitive technology could only be created by the use of government force against citizens. With the freedom to choose, you would never start up such a business with your own money; or if you did it would quickly die from massive financial bleeding. When the OCDSB states that their use of the OPA program will eventually generate over $1 million of revenue per year they are technically correct, but conveniently ignoring the fact that this money is taken from Ontarians helpless to choose if they wish to support the plan. In other words, it is a fully-baked tax increase. For a price 20 times lower the OCDSB can be supplied with the same energy.
Thus, our students see by example that it is right for one government monopoly (Ministry of Education) to adopt the non-scientific program of another government monopoly (OPA) to implement the irrational whims of those who hold political power (MPP’s) over the lives of citizens. When children are taught that scientific principles are to be ignored when reality is inconvenient; taught that economic facts are to be overridden by political pressure groups; and taught that the rights of citizens to pursue their own goals and make their own decisions in life free of state interference are subjugated to any transient political wish, it is no wonder they often grow up with little knowledge of science, economics or philosophy.