Stop playing with Ontario’s electricity

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.

6 thoughts on “Stop playing with Ontario’s electricity

  1. A slightly longer version of this column appears at One of the points I make there is:

    Key issues about our electricity future include whether Ontario should maintain those coal units fitted with modern scrubbers or whether we benefit by shifting massive amounts of costs from ratepayers onto the provincial deficit. But don’t look to this campaign to address those issues. Like the gas plant cancellation, the parties are in full or substantial agreement.

    • There is not enough Ontario government money to finance all the planned renewable energy projects. Also not enough private venture capital. So more and more money from insurance pools/funds and pension funds will be needed to finance these projects.

  2. Dr. Tim Ball speaks out about Ontario’s power fiasco:

    “Ontarians are paying for the green energy agendas created by Maurice Strong as former head of Ontario Hydro. David Suzuki and Dalton McGuinty push to continue Strong’s disastrous policies, which guarantees shortages and higher costs, even if McGuinty is defeated. It will take years to rebuild adequate facilities. Strong and Suzuki found willing politicians who refused to understand. It’s willful because of the clear evidence of false science and failure of similar policies in any place that pursued green energy.”

    • The role of Greenpeace in the renewable energy fiasco should also be taken into account here in Ontario.

  3. The people of Toronto area really should have nearby generation capacity — otherwise they are subject to the vagaries of ice storms and any other disaster which could affect power transmission lines.

    As I understand the issues the people of Toronto do not want nearby power generating stations, nor do they want transmission lines cluttering their landscapes.

    To me the function of an OPA (An OPA that actually functioned!) would be to develop the technical choices and plans and do the initial costing. Choosing which plan to implement is always a political and economic decision — that cannot be avoided.

    So here we are — the current reality is that nobody wants anything done unless it’s in your back yard! It sounds like we’re all NIMBYs.

    So what do we get? Unproductive, ineffective wind and Solar instead of reliable Hydro and Nuclear — and a plan to upgrade a rural network — which would not need upgrading if it were not for the wind and solar intrusion.

    The best choice for Ontario cities is to accept internal power generation due to security and reliability issues. Will the politicians issue the proper directives to OPA to develop the plans and technology? Will we see more pointless cancellations?

    The answer is simple. If the Liberals have a minority backed by the NDP you can look forward to more of the current situation. Complete confusion and ineffective leadership with the flavour of the day policies thrown in for good measure.

    Will the PC’s be any better? Maybe, maybe not — but at least there is some hope for sanity…

  4. I would dealy like to know who greenPeace speaks for because no one I know or have ever asked has wanted Greenpeace or any other Lobby group to speak for them….so why the Governmnet face time?
    Everything they do cost you and I more money..they should be banned

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