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Hydro rates put ‘writing on the wall’ for northwestern industry (10/05)

Frustration heightens as northwestern communities try to make sense of current and future energy initiatives.

Frustration heightens as northwestern communities try to make sense of current and future energy initiatives.

Although there has been no official word from the Ministry of Energy, rumblings have surfaced in the northwest that the minister may be considering a new nuclear power station for the region.

But Energy Minister Dwight Duncan says no decisions will be made until the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) hands in its report detailing the status of current energy projects and potential generation sources. The report is expected in December.

Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay will be coming to Atikokan to talk about what the alternatives are when the coal-fired plant is decommissioned.

“I think we have had enough talking and it is about time we had some bloody action,” says Atikokan economic development officer Garry McKinnon.

He, along with other northwest industry leaders, consultants and public representatives would like to get a clearer picture from the government on future energy initiatives.

McKinnon says Queen’s Park is talking about shutting down Ontario’s coal-fired generating stations by 2007, but are still prepared to import 3,800 megawatts from the Ohio Valley coal-fired plants to keep southern Ontario air conditioners running.

“This is nuts. The provincial government’s motive for decimating the Atikokan economy is so we will be so desperate as to accept nuclear waste.”

The community of 7,800 is not yet in crisis but will be there soon, McKinnon says. Senior staff at the Atikokan Generating Station are already leaving.

“We are not asking to be bailed out,” he says, “we are asking (the government) to invest up to $100 million in the plant to clean it up and run it for another 50 years.”

Instead the government has been steadfast in their position. The plant will be closed in 2007, while the Thunder Bay coal-fired plant will be converted to natural gas.

There is speculation whether gas pipelines can handle any more capacity, but Duncan says the existing infrastructure can handle the upcoming demand.

Ted Gruetzner, Ministry of Energy spokesman, says plans are being formulated for the conversion, adding it is up to Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to implement “the nuts and bolts of how that work will be done and who would do (it).” He provided no time lines.

OPG spokesperson John Earl says no project team, no business plan or time lines have been formally established, since they are awaiting financial support from cabinet.

“I met with the president and chair of OPG on those issues,” Duncan says.

Some people believe the government does not want to introduce natural gas at all. Rather, they say, it wants to construct nuclear reactors to show the rest of the world nuclear energy does work. Moreover, the government wants to put nuclear waste into the abandon mines of Atikokan.

“There is that element (of thinking) in the community,” McKinnon says,”but it’s not a pervasive sentiment at this point.”

Mike Krizanc, spokesperson with the Toronto-based Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) says it is highly unlikely abandoned mines will be used to store waste material. They have too many fissures in the rock and companies may want to revisit the site for further mineral production, she argues.

Energy Probe’s executive director, Tom Adams, believes the government is “creating conditions (for) nuclear expansion.”

There is lack of clarity on the government’s part in developing an action plan to address high energy costs, new sources of generation and protecting public debt from sky rocketing, Adams says.

He views nuclear power as “one of the only conceivable explanations.”

It would take two Darlington’s at approximately $28 billion to replace the coal-fired energy as opposed to spending a few hundred million to upgrade the systems, Adams says.

During a stopover in Sudbury in mid August NDP leader Howard Hampton said “the real McGuinty energy scheme is to “go nuclear and go big.”

The MPP for Kenora-Rainy River added that when one sees Manitoba and Quebec introducing energy efficient strategies and yet the present government is doing nothing “it almost looks as if a government is prepared to create a crisis because it will justify pushing the nuclear button.”

Duncan responded by saying the NDP Leader was blowing hot air.

“He has got more positions on energy than the Kama Sutra,” Duncan says.

While Hampton was in Bob Rae’s cabinet, the NDP government canceled all conservation projects, increased energy prices by 43 percent all while 14 mills closed down, he says.

“It is ideas and thoughts like his that have put us in the spot we are in right now.”

Duncan is pushing forward on the Conawapa Dam project that will bring Manitoba power over to Northern Ontario, then down into the south.

“We are now looking at the in depth cost and I hope to have that resolved fairly soon,” Duncan says. If the project moves forward as planned, it will take another 12 to 15 years before Ontario will utilize any of its energy.

Depending on the construction phases of prospective projects, it will take probably another two more summers of possible brown outs before Ontario has enough generation capacity.

The Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) has contracted Larry Hebert, former manager and 29-year veteran of Thunder Bay Hydro, to write a report on energy policies for the future.

It will detail the Atikokan crisis, Thunder Bay conversion and a northwestern/northeastern approach to energy with an idea to spur regional pricing. The report will also detail fuel cell and ethanol opportunities for the North.

He will be meeting with the Federation of Northeastern Ontario Mayors (FONOM) members to establish a united northern front.

“If we do not get something done energy-wise, these big guys (lumber and mining companies) are going to close and then what is going to happen,” Hebert says.

“The writing is on the wall.”