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Ontario could avoid refurbishing aging nuclear stations and save over $1 billion annually on electricity bills if the province imported water power from Quebec, says the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, a coalition of 90 organizations that promote renewable energy.
“This one is really a no-brainer,” Jack Gibbons, chair of the alliance, told DeSmog Canada. The alliance was largely responsible for Ontario agreeing to phase out all coal-fire power plants by December 31, 2014.
Quebec is the fourth largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world (behind China, Brazil and the U.S.) and has a large hydro surplus the province usually sells to the U.S. Existing power lines between Ontario and Quebec can transport nearly as much power as Ontario’s Darlington nuclear station produces. This amounts to more than 10 per cent of Ontario’s peak demand on a hot summer’s day.
“Importing hydro from Quebec is technically feasible. The only barrier is lack of political will,” Mark Winfield, associate professor of environmental studies at York University, says.
Successive Ontario governments have insisted on the province producing all of its own electricity despite the fact it sits between two provinces with massive hydroelectric generating capacities — Quebec and Manitoba. Transmission lines from Ontario to both of these provinces have existed for decades. Ontario-based water and nuclear power provide the province with most of its electricity.
Ontario’s electricity supply mix in 2013. Source: Long Term Energy Plan 2013
“Ontario imports natural gas from outside the province, and uranium for its nuclear plants from Saskatchewan, and used to buy its coal from the American Midwest,” Winfield told DeSmog Canada.
“Why would importing electricity from Quebec be any different?” he says.
Ontario’s long-term energy plan, released last December, projects home power bills will rise 42 per cent by 2018. The plan calls for energy conservation and refurbishing old nuclear reactors to prevent rates from increasing even more.
Importing water power is mentioned in the province’s energy plan as a possibility if the price is right:
“Ontario will consider opportunities for clean imports [i.e. renewable energy such as water power] from other jurisdictions when such imports would have system benefits and are cost effective for Ontario ratepayers.”
Transmission power lines from Ontario to other provinces and states. Source: Long Term Energy Plan 2013
The Ontario Clean Air Alliance estimates the savings for Ontario will be at least $1.2 billion annually between 2020 and 2050 if the province cancels the refurbishment of Darlington’s nuclear reactors and signs a long-term power contract with Quebec instead. The cost of the refurbishment will be 8.6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) according to Darlington’s operator,Ontario Power Generation. Quebec exports power at 4.1 cents/kWh on average.
The savings could be even more.
“Nuclear projects in Ontario usually run 2.5 times over budget. We are concerned that the actual cost of the Darlington re-build will be between 19-37 cents/kWh,” Gibbons told DeSmog Canada.
Ontario Power Generation, a provincially owned power company, has asked the Ontario Energy Board to approve a 30 per cent rate increase on what the company is paid for nuclear power. A big chunk of the rate increase is expected to go to extending the lives of Ontario Power Generation’s nuclear reactors at Darlington by an additional 30 years.
“As we see it, energy conservation and importing hydro from Quebec is the only way Ontario can reduce electricity bills for consumers,” Gibbons says.
Quebec stands to benefit from a power contract with Ontario as well since the U.S. export market is collapsing. The U.S. shale gas boom has dropped the price of natural gas so low that American states are burning more gas for their power than before, creating less economic incentive to buy electricity from Quebec.
Ontario could reap further economic benefits beyond being a consumer of Quebec’s cheap hydro. Winfield points out that Quebec’s electrical demand is the highest in winter when Ontario’s demand is low and wind power is at its strongest. Ontario could sell its power back to Quebec as part of the deal.
Cheaper electricity rates could provide some relief for Ontario declining manufacturing industry by reducing the cost of doing business and making manufacturers in Ontario more competitive.
“Although there would be some job loss in Ontario’s power generating sector, there would be a net-gain for the province’s economy,” Gibbons says.
Image Credit: DeborahCoyne.ca, Government of Ontario
KINCARDINE, Ont. – Ordinarily, a proposal to bury radioactive waste in a scenic area that relies on tourism would inspire “not in my backyard” protests from local residents — and relief in places that were spared.
But conventional wisdom has been turned on its head in Ontario, where a publicly owned power company wants to entomb waste from its nuclear plants 680 metres below the surface near Lake Huron.
Some of the strongest support comes from Kincardine and other communities near the would-be disposal site at the Bruce Power complex, the world’s largest nuclear power station, which produces one-fourth of all electricity generated in Canada’s most heavily populated province. Nuclear is a way of life here, and many residents have jobs connected to the industry.
Meanwhile, the loudest objections are coming from elsewhere in Canada and the U.S. — particularly Michigan, which shares the Lake Huron shoreline with Ontario.
Critics are aghast at the idea. They don’t buy assurances that the waste would rest far beneath the lake’s greatest depths and be encased in rock formations that have been stable for 450 million years.
“Neither the U.S. nor Canada can afford the risk of polluting the Great Lakes with toxic nuclear waste,” U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee, Sander Levin, John Dingell and Gary Peters of Michigan said in a letter to a panel that is expected to make a recommendation next spring to Canada’s federal government, which has the final say.
Michigan’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, have asked the State Department to intervene. Business and environmental groups in Michigan and Ohio submitted letters. An online petition sponsored by a Canadian opposition group has collected nearly 42,000 signatures.
The decision on the $1 billion Canadian project could influence the broader debate over burying nuclear waste deep underground, said Per Peterson, a nuclear engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley, who served on a national commission that studied the waste issue in the United States. The U.S. government’s plan for building a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been halted by stiff opposition.
“Demonstrating that this facility can be approved and operated safely is important because it can improve confidence that future high-level waste facilities also can be operated safely,” Peterson said.
The Canadian “deep geologic repository” would be the only deep-underground storage facility in North America, aside from a military installation in New Mexico. Other U.S. radioactive waste landfills are shallow — usually 30 metres deep or less.
The most highly radioactive waste generated at nuclear plants is spent fuel, which wouldn’t go into the Canadian chamber. Instead, the site would house “low-level” waste such as ashes from incinerated mop heads, paper towels and floor sweepings. It also would hold “intermediate waste” — discarded parts from the reactor core.
The project would be operated by Ontario Power Generation, a publicly owned company that manages waste generated by its nuclear reactors and others owned by Bruce Power, a private operator. Officials insist it’s the safest way to deal with radioactive material that has been stored aboveground since the late 1960s and needs a permanent resting place.
“We’ve had many scientists and engineers studying this for many years,” OPG spokesman Neal Kelly said. “They’ve concluded that it will not harm the environment or the public.”
Most of the waste would decay within 300 years, but the company acknowledges the intermediate waste would stay radioactive for more than 100,000 years. That’s too long for Eugene Bourgeois, who has a wool yarn business near Bruce Power.
“We have only recently discovered radioactivity,” he said. “It’s arrogant to think we’re smart enough to know what it will do to life on this planet over such a long time.”
Larry Kraemer, mayor of Kincardine, says most of his constituents don’t share those fears. The risk of radioactive pollution is “so low as to be almost unimaginable,” he said. “The people here draw their drinking water from the lake. We’re certainly not going to take any chances with it.”
Kincardine is among several small communities hugging the shoreline in southern Ontario’s Bruce County, which has miles of sandy beaches popular with tourists — particularly from Toronto, about three hours southwest. The downtowns are lined with shops, restaurants, parks, museums and woodsy footpaths.
The area’s first nuclear plant was built in the 1960s in countryside north of Kincardine. The sprawling Bruce Power site now has eight reactors and employs about 4,000 people. Kraemer says about half the jobs in his town of 12,000 are connected to the industry.
“We don’t have the knee-jerk reaction when someone says ‘nuclear’ that other people do,” said Joanne Robbins, general manager of the chamber of commerce in nearby Saugeen Shores. “We grew up with it.”
Beverly Fernandez, leader of the group that started the online petition, lives in Saugeen Shores but admits she’s focusing on rally opposition outside the area because the industry is so popular in Bruce County — which she dryly labels “the nuclear oasis.”
Company specialists say the waste would be placed in impermeable chambers drilled into sturdy limestone 680 metres below the surface, topped with a shale layer more than 180 metres thick. The lake’s maximum depth in the vicinity of the nuclear site is about 180 metres.
But Charles Rhodes, an engineer and physicist, contended seeping groundwater would fill the chamber in as little as a year, become contaminated and eventually reach the lake through tiny cracks in the rock.
“It’s only a question of how long, and how toxic it will be when it gets there,” he said in an interview.
Kraemer, the Kincardine mayor, said naysayers should be grateful his town is willing to shoulder a burden few others would accept.
“Opposition without responsibility is just a little too easy,” he said.
Ontario Power Generation: http://opgdgr.com/
Opposition group: http://www.stopthegreatlakesnucleardump.com/
It’s tough competition for headline space in the media lately. Tax policy and energy price adjustments just don’t have the same appeal as a mayor smoking crack or secret cheques to cover fraudulent housing expenses.
However, the boring stuff has far more impact on our lives than the circus that follows the eccentric and scandal-plagued leaders in our country.
Not all scandals are equal.
The Ontario Liberal’s political decision to cancel gas plants in vote-heavy ridings, on the other hand, actually affects our bottom line. The consequences of the gas plant boondoggle are now coming to fruition, as evident in the drastic rate increase in our power bills starting on November 1st.
The price for off-peak power has increased by 7.5 per cent per kilowatt-hour, and 4 per cent during peak hours. Compare that to the rate of inflation, which is currently about 1.2 per cent. Our off-peak power rates — the time of day we were previously told to use energy to save money — has been hiked by more than six times the rate of inflation!
Political interference from the premier’s office is responsible for the exasperated price tag of the cancelled gas plant, which could actually exceed the estimated cost of $1.09 billion. The recent auditor general’s report states that $625 million of that tab will be passed on to electricity ratepayers in Ontario, who will foot the bill over the next 20 years.
And, as of November, we will fork over more of our after-tax income to the Ontario Power Generation.
Politics often boils down to concentrated benefits and diffused costs. The Liberals — who benefited significantly from cancelling these plants by saving at least four seats during an election where four seats really mattered — are hoping that no one will notice this rate increase.
When thirteen and a half million Ontario residents split the tab and pay it off over 20 years from both their tax bill and energy bill, it’s less noticeable. That is diffused costs. And that is how our politicians get away with such blatantly partisan, self-interested decision-making.
Unfortunately for this government, that isn’t the only factor contributing to rising energy prices in Ontario. The cancelled gas plants are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the mismanagement of the energy file.
The costly and ill-conceived Green Energy Act, which saw billions of taxpayer dollars go to corporate welfare and subsidies to foreign firms, also drives up costs for electricity ratepayers.
Meanwhile, taxpayers pay for a billion-dollar-a-year subsidy known as the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit, a 10 per cent discount to household energy bills to cover the skyrocketing price tag for green energy.
Yes, taxpayers subsidize both the production and the consumption of green energy.
It gets better. Our government also pays some green energy producers not to do anything at all. We learned earlier this fall that Ontario pays some of its wind turbine farmers not to produce energy.
Ronald Reagan must have been talking about Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli’s policies when he explained how government works: “If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
Ontario taxpayers and ratepayers will be stuck for the tab for the incompetence and mismanagement of our energy ministry for years to come. We may not always see it in the news, but we certainly see it in our electricity bills and on our pay stubs.
- Parker Gallant: Who really sets Ontario’s Energy Policies? (ep.probeinternational.org)
- Behind closed doors: who is really setting Ontario’s energy policies? (freewco.wordpress.com)
- New Ontario green energy rules to give municipalities greater control over projects and a chance to collect revenue (news.nationalpost.com)
- Windfall – massive contract boosts hiring (lfpress.com)