[Ring of Fire] Ontario needs better energy infrastructure – by George Smitherman (Sudbury Star – May 23, 2012)

 The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

George Smitherman former deputy premier and Energy minister of Ontario

By the sounds of the name it’s been given, the Ring of Fire is the last place on Earth where you’d think you have to worry about how to supply power. However, when you are proposing mining activity 300 km north of any paved road, things get complicated quickly.

Maybe that’s why Ontario is actually allowing a giant American mining company, and at least one smaller Canadian one, to propose that diesel generation be used to provide electricity. Problem is, their needs are projected to start at 30 mw and grow to 70 mw. That would take about 10 million litres of diesel fuel each month. Diesel fuel that would presumably be trucked 300 km along a road that will be carved out of environmentally sensitive lands.

This Ring of Fire mining activity will be taking place in the James Bay Lowlands on the traditional territories of several First Nation communities. It’s ironic that a pressing need of these same communities is a more reliable, healthy and cost effective means of generating electricity than the small diesel generators they currently use.

First Nations communities have experienced the limitations of electricity from diesel for far too long. What is needed is a vision for the expansion of Ontario’s electricity infrastructure northward in a way that would properly accommodate social, environmental and economic needs for all concerned. What is on the table is an electricity solution intended for temporary use, even though the mining activity is expected to last decades.

It’s hard to see how this power situation is supposed to benefit the company’s bottom line. Paying an estimated $2 billion to consume more than a billion litres of diesel over just 10 years seems like a lot of money. Would this money not be better spent on an energy solution that provides cleaner power to the mine and can help create a sustainable electricity legacy for First Nations?

It is surprising that a province that has staked so much on eliminating coal-fired plants would stand by while a much greater health and environmental risk is still on the table.

More outrageous is that the scale of this huge industrial opportunity doesn’t seem sufficiently generous to allow for anyone to proactively address the aspirations of local First Nations.

There are options and alternatives and maybe now that the project has moved into the feasibility stage these alternatives will get due consideration.

Chief Eli Moonias of Marten Falls First Nation recently observed “by proposing to use diesel generators at the mine (the companies are) signaling they are not interested in helping us with infrastructure development”.