McGuinty government decision another blow to Northern Ontario development
A decision to shelve the conversion of a Thunder Bay coal-burning power plant to natural gas is a severe setback for development in the province's northland.
The government of Premier Dalton McGuinty hammered one more nail into the coffin of Northern Ontario recently, when the Ontario Power Authority decided to back away from the conversion of the Thunder Bay coal-burning power plant to natural gas.
Critics say the OPA’s decision makes development of the “Ring of Fire” — a remote part of the northwest that’s rich in mineral deposits — almost impossible.
The decision comes hard on the heels of other northern blunders, such as the Far North Act, which put half the land north of the 51st parallel — an area about the size of Britain — out of bounds for development.
Then they shut down the Ontario Northland Transportation Corp. (ONTC) rail service, a move that will devastate small communities and stifle economic growth.
Cancelling the conversion of the power plant is a further blow to the northern economy.
In its announcement, the OPA said it would provide the electricity northwestern Ontario needs by building new transmission lines.
That doesn’t make sense.
The decision also highlights the foolishness of the original plan by the McGuinty government to shut down coal plants.
In order to convert the plant to natural gas, the size of the pipeline needed to fuel it had to be increased.
The company building the pipeline has gone ahead with plans to keep a smaller-sized pipeline, so the conversion can’t go ahead.
The Thunder Bay plant is a peaking plant, used only a few days of the year when electricity shortages occur.
It’s located in the vast northwestern airshed, where the small amount of emissions the coal plant produces can easily be absorbed in a carbon sink the size of Europe.
“This is the ultimate absurdity,” one industry insider told me recently. “Instead of burning coal for a few hours a year, they are getting into a situation where we are having to build some very expensive transmission lines or put mineral exploration on hold.”
PC critic Norm Miller is incensed by the announcement.
“It doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, when you see the possibilities for new mines in the northwest and the power demands,” he said.
“The north seems to be taking the brunt of the cuts that are being made, whether it be parks that are being shut down or tourist centres for the northwest that have been cut, or the ONTC being divested,” Miller said.
The Thunder Bay area will need 684 megawatts of additional electricity to supply new mines in Red Lake and the Ring of Fire, says a spokesman for the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission.
The north relies on a great deal of hydro generation from water, but that may not be reliable.
“If we run into significant dry seasons, we may be challenged to have significant output from those facilities,” said John Mason.
“We see the Thunder Bay generating plant as an important asset and potentially required going forward as a part of the whole energy mix,” he said.
Between nine and 13 new mines are coming online between now and 2017, as well as old ones that are expanding that have substantial power requirements.
The transmission line the government is planning won’t be complete until 2017 and the projects are coming on line before that.
It seems the trendy latte-loving environmentalists in the McGuinty government have forgotten this province was built on northern industries like mining and forestry.
They’re dictating northern policy from a Starbucks in downtown Toronto.
They don’t understand the north and have no idea that the people living there want a thriving economy and a chance at a decent job.