TORONTO — The government of Dalton McGuinty hammered one more nail in the coffin of northern Ontario recently, when the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) 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.
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