If Ontario is serious about energy conservation, it should drop its obsession with electricity and focus on the real culprits - gasoline and other transport fuels, the province's environmental commissioner said Monday.
"We have lost momentum," said Gord Miller, who called the government's conservation plan "unco-ordinated and improvised."
"We already consume much more energy for transportation than we do for electricity, and most future growth in Ontario's energy consumption is expected to come from the transportation sector."
The government should be investing in transit and consider moving toward rail delivery instead of transport trucks where reasonable, Mr. Miller said, adding he was disappointed with a recent delay in transit expansion in Toronto.
"Those are not the signals sent by a government that is strongly expressing the need to conserve energy; those are perhaps signals that cause everybody to step back and ask: 'Are we rethinking this?' " Mr. Miller said.
"We shouldn't be rethinking anything; we should be thrusting forward."
When it comes to transport, Mr. Miller said, the province should be looking to expand the rail freight system to "some of its former glory" because the energy efficiency of rail is far higher than that of transport trucks.
"Going forward, the expected cost of petroleum is going to be so high that, where it makes sense, we should not neglect the rail-delivery system," Mr. Miller said.
"We're going to regret our total dependence on diesel trucks to deliver our goods."
Mr. Miller also suggested initiatives such as vehicle standards, low-carbon fuels and transit road pricing - direct charges levied to the users of roads.
Critics of the government said Mr. Miller's report highlights the need for a comprehensive plan that addresses ways to reduce the use of heating oil, as well as transportation needs and alternative-fuel vehicles.
"This government seems to be obsessed with how we produce energy and not how we conserve energy," said Mike Schreiner, Leader of the Green Party of Ontario.
"The bottom line is that the cheapest approach is conserving energy,"
New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns said recent funding delays to transit in Toronto are emblematic of the problem, not just for that city but in all urban centres in Ontario, which need more support.
"If you're seriously committed to efficiency and reducing congestion, getting people around cleanly, then you have to invest in transit," Mr. Tabuns said.
"In smaller cites we shouldn't be promoting sprawl the way we are in Toronto. If those cities are concentrated more people can walk or bike or take transit to work."
Premier Dalton McGuinty defended the province's efforts to help bring down electricity usage, but admitted more work was needed when it comes to overall conservation.
"[Mr. Miller]makes a good point in particular about fuel conservation," Mr. McGuinty said during an unrelated event in Walkerton, Ont.
"What we have done with respect to cars is we've tried to move in lockstep with the Americans and federal government. So there's a new standard that's going to be put in place, but there's more to be done."