Tom Adams, National Post
The Ontario Liberals announced Sunday that if elected, they would relocate a locally controversial natural gasfired power generating station already under construction in southeast Mississauga, where the local Liberal Charles Sousa is facing a strong challenge from the PC candidate Geoff Janoscik. The announcement highlights the hazards of vesting our politicians with control over our electricity supply.
The Mississauga generator cancellation echoes the Liberal government’s decision of almost exactly one year ago, cancelling a much larger gas-fired generator once planned for Oakville. The Oakville gas plant was also locally controversial, with a Liberal MPP actively opposing his government’s initial approach. Indeed, the Mississauga generator was part of the plan to fill the gap left in the western Torontoarea’s power supply by the Oakville generating plant’s cancellation.
Underscoring the political nature of the announcement, despite Liberal denials of any political motive, the statement announcing that the plant would be moved also claims, “The Hudak PCs have committed to keeping dirty coal-fired pollution burning in Ontario.” (The PC platform promises “to complete the closure of coal powered plants by 2014.”)
Although long on politics, the Liberal statements so far are silent on the costs of the cancellation, the measures that will be required to serve the needs that the power plant would have met, or the timing of its replacement. These gaps are telling.
With concrete already poured for the Mississauga generator, the financial implications for the developer of cancellation will be large relative to the overall expected cost of the facility.
Smelling of electoral panic, Sousa’s prepared statement claims, “Ontario Liberals will work with the developer to find a new location for the plant. It will not be in Etobicoke or Mississauga.”
The Ontario PC’s Janoscik and the local NDP candidate, Anju Sikka, soon issued statements concurring with the new Liberal cancellation.
The provincial PCs have endorsed voluntary siting of generating plants but have not addressed the question of whether their support for voluntary siting extends to the transmission lines that would be required if generating plants are built far from where power is needed by consumers. Nor have the PCs explained how they would make trade-offs if a locally opposed plant was needed for reliability purposes.
The political flap over the south Mississauga generator overlooks the extreme vulnerability of Toronto to a protracted blackout. This weakness is due to transmission deficiencies into Toronto, the region of heaviest power usage in the province. The absence of a substantial amount of local generation – a problem exacerbated by the closure of the Lakeview coal fired power station in south Mississauga – worsens the vulnerability.
For decades, transmission experts have recognized that the electrical transmission infrastructure now serving Toronto is vulnerable. It is certainly the weakest of any major financial centre in North America and probably the weakest such centre in the OECD.
The south Mississauga gas generator was intended to provide relief for the overstretched Manby transformer station, owned by Hydro One. In July 2010, a routine equipment failure at Manby caused one of the longest and most widespread blackouts for a large urban centre in North America since the August 2003 northeast blackout.
It was Ontario’s first large “green” blackout. An urgently needed alternative transmission route into Toronto, that would have reduced or eliminated the disruption caused by the Manby equipment failure, has been effectively blocked by environmental activists.
With all three major parties agreeing that the Mississauga generator must go, there will be no debate on the wider issues associated with the cancellation of the Mississauga generator. Without that debate, we will miss another chance to consider the role politics should play in controlling our electricity future.