Premier Dalton McGuinty is touting renewable energy as a way to power 50,000 "direct and indirect" new jobs in Ontario over the next three years.

He plans to table a Green Energy Act when the legislature resumes sitting on Feb. 17.

In a speech to the Canadian Club in Toronto on Tuesday, McGuinty said the bill would help in combating climate change and create a "healthier future" in the generations to come.

"Because of our Green Energy Act, our province would be greener, stronger, and in a better position to compete and win against the rest of the world. We're going to seize this opportunity to build a better Ontario - better for jobs, better for our children, better for our planet," McGuinty said in a news release.

"Everywhere I go in Ontario, people tell me they want us to build a greener province. I'll be introducing legislation soon that would make Ontario a world-leading jurisdiction for renewable energy, with best-in-class programs designed to yield best-in-class progress to attract investment and create 21st century job opportunities for Ontarians," said George Smitherman -- deputy premier and minister of energy and infrastructure -- in the release.

The premier gave almost no details about the plan in his speech.

However, to put the 50,000 jobs into context, the province has lost more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs since 2002. Ontario lost 66,000 jobs in November alone -- although the bleeding stopped temporarily in December.

The difficulties faced by the Big Three automakers in the province have had McGuinty warning of further employment contraction in that sector.

However, late last month, the provincial government announced a series of clean energy deals worth $1.3 billion that it said will create 2,200 jobs.

The government claims that 25 per cent of the province's electricity came from renewable sources in 2008, but that includes hydroelectric power generation as well as less traditional types such as wind and solar.

The McGuinty government is also planning on pressing ahead with nuclear expansion.

While the government notes it has brought about 1,000 megawatts of new renewable electricity into the grid since 2003, it wants to get 13,000 megawatts from nuclear-generated electricity.

Ontario can currently meet a peak load of just under 25,000 megawatts. The province wants to reduce peak demand by 2,700 megawatts by 2010.


McGuinty wouldn't say if Ontario will avoid a "structural" deficit that would keep provincial books in the red even when the provincial economy begins to recover.

An Ontario recovery could be anywhere from six months to 18 months away, he said.

In the meantime, the premier said he's prepared to run a deficit that's "as high as necessary" to help the provincial economy today. However, he doesn't want it so high as to hurt the economy in the future.

The Green Energy Act and an increased focus on renewable energy will be an attempt to prepare Ontario for the "post-recession" era, he said.

With files from The Canadian Press