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When the Ontario government awarded a little-known company a contract to build two gas-fired power plants near Toronto in 2005, the move was hailed as a win for the environment, hydro consumers and the province’s electricity system.
The company, Eastern Power Ltd., had never done anything that size before. But the government insisted the bid had been thoroughly vetted and Eastern would have to meet strict performance terms. Today, the project is in tatters, an embarrassing and costly bruise on Dalton McGuinty’s nine-year tenure as Premier of Ontario.
It has been scrapped without producing a single kilowatt of electricity. The project fell victim to the governing Liberals’ promise in the dying days of last year’s provincial election campaign to cancel it if re-elected because of mounting local opposition. The pledge helped save four Liberal seats in the area and secure Mr. McGuinty’s minority government.
But at what cost? A review of thousands of internal government documents by The Globe and Mail reveal the troubled history of the plant, dubbed Greenfield South, and the lengths the government had to go to cancel the project. Officials in the energy sector also question whether Greg and Hubert Vogt, Eastern’s owners, had the experience to take on such a large project.
The Vogts did not return several telephone and e-mail messages.
The brothers had been in the power business for years, but on a much smaller scale. Trained as engineers at the University of Toronto, they had pioneered a technology in the 1980s that turned trash into energy and won acclaim for building small methane-fuelled power plants at two landfill sites near Toronto. They came along at an opportune time, just as the government was looking to private players to produce power to help meet the province’s growing electricity needs.
The brothers couldn’t be more different. Greg is described as outgoing, confident, almost cocky. “He thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room,” said one lawyer who has tangled with him. Hubert is more reserved and rarely takes centre stage. One government official who worked at Eastern described the brothers in an internal e-mail as “secretive” and “private.”
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