CEO catches up with students on campus


John Kourtoff, U of T alumnus and co-founder of Trillium Power, discussed the economic benefits of renewable energy with UTM students and faculty inside the Council Chambers last Thursday. Kourtoff’s presentation on renewable energy was organized by UTM’s Undergraduate Economics Council.

“I’m hoping that [the students] get a view of the big picture of what can be done with renewables, what’s possible, what the status quo is, what the debate is about, and what forces are lined up against the economics of renewable,” said Kourtoff.

The discussion focussed on why renewable energies have not been deployed on a larger scale, despite being economically and environmentally advantageous.

Kourtoff said that Ontario’s demand for electricity is expected to grow and at the same time the provincial government has planned to phase out coal-fired power plants. The spike in demand combined with concerns over pollution, smog, and nuclear waste have made renewable energy sources more appealing.

According to Trillium Power’s calculations, the full development of Ontario’s offshore wind potential would generate $256 billion in gross economic activity and $11 billion in provincial tax revenues over a 15-year period. The complete development is also estimated to create between 66,000 and 100,000 jobs.

Despite the potential economic gains of renewable energy sources, Kourtoff noted the barriers that have been put up by the more established energy sectors.

“Fossil fuels and the nuclear industry have the money, they have the lobby, and they can put their information out in the media. So the new energies, the renewables, are nascent,” said Kourtoff. “They have the public support. People fundamentally understand it [renewable energy] is good,

but they think it’s for environmental reasons and not for economic reasons.”

Kourtoff went on to say that consumers must be given economic incentives to switch to renewable energy, and that energy costs must be made transparent so that consumers can make informed decisions when it comes to powering their homes.

The presentation also showed the development of renewable energy industries abroad.

Kourtoff noted the boom of Germany’s renewable energy sector, which currently employs 256,000 people, with over 90,000 of them working in the wind power sector. Spain’s wind power industry has created 60,000 jobs in the last decade. The Boston Consulting Group estimates that further development of the wind power industry would create between 150,000 and 200,000 jobs by the year 2020.

While Trillium Power focuses on harnessing offshore wind energy, Kourtoff commented on the potential of solar power as well.

“Solar power won’t power [all of Mississauga], but it’s part of the mix. Every building, every house has a roof,” said Kourtoff. “Last year, Germany put in more solar power than the equivalent of three nuclear reactors. It was all roof-based, because they don’t have much land. The country is one-third the size of Ontario. Roofs are land as well, if you think about it. And they usually just sit there, so we might as well use them. It takes a little bit more effort to think differently.”

“I always looked at things logically. I took astrophysics and actually it was a bird course for me.

I like models, I like working at things and solving problems,” Kourtoff said about his time as a student at U of T St. George.

“I’m also willing to do something I believe in and never back down. A lot of my profs found that out when I was challenging them in courses. My hope is that students come to university to question and accept the status quo. It’s through them that we have the hope for change.”

Among the students in the audience that Kourtoff charged with the responsibility of challenging the status quo was Alexandra Correia, a fourth-year finance specialist.

“His speech was very broad. He went into renewables, but also nuclear energy, and so it was very informative,” said Correia. “It was great just being around someone who’s this accomplished and who has so much to impart.”

Kourtoff was a delegate to the G8 Environment Conference in Siracusa, Italy, and is a member of several national and bi-national committees on renewable energy and wind power, as well as a speaker at several international conferences on offshore wind and renewable energy.

The corporation he co-founded, Trillium Power, is a privately owned, Toronto-based company. Trillium Power’s business mainly centres on the development of offshore wind facilities in the Great Lakes.

The Undergraduate Economics Council has two more events coming up. The UEC will give students the chance to meet representatives from various businesses at a networking night that will take place on October 21, and on October 28 professors from the finance department will discuss the value of offering an MBA.