Fight to keep power plant far from over – by Bryan Meadows (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal – November 29, 2012)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

Thunder Bay’s Liberal MPPs continue their fight to keep the Thunder Bay Generating Station in the energy mix in Northwestern Ontario. Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro said Wednesday that he believes the plant conversion from coal-fired to natural gas can still happen.

“I think it can be salvaged,” he said. That’s despite an Ontario Power Generation decision to cancel a Union Gas contract, at a cost of more than $5 million, that would have tied the power station to the utility’s pipeline system.

Mauro said “if the conversion goes forward, those costs will not be lost, just included as part of the project. “It’s my belief that this will happen. The money will become part of the project. “I feel this is a cost-effective project, for our future it makes a tonne of sense,” he said.

“The cost of conversion is minimal compare to the value of the asset (of the Thunder Bay Generating Station).” Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle agreed, noting that Energy Minister Chris Bentley has made it clear that the suspension of the conversion plan is a pause in the process.

“He is asking the Ontario Power Authority to fully explain why they believe we can meet the increasing energy needs of the Northwest without this conversion,’’ said Gravelle.

“The minister is determined to have this resolved as soon as possible.

“Certainly, I firmly believe that a conversion of the plant is vital to our region as we anticipate significant energy requirements from new mining and forestry developments,” Gravelle said.

He said he is to address the matter again with Bentley in Toronto next week.

Meanwhile, Mauro has taken exception to remarks by Timmins-James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson about the McGuinty Liberals “playing politics” with the Thunder Bay plant’s conversion project.

“Where has Bisson been over the past nine years” I’ve been fighting for the Thunder Bay and Atikokan coal-fired plants for nine years. I’ve never heard anything from him to keep these plants open,” said Mauro.

Conversion of the Atikokan Generating Station from coal to biomass fuel began this fall with a 2014 completion date.
Bisson said Tuesday that the Liberal government has spent $20 million on its on-again, off-again plans to convert the Thunder Bay plant from coal to natural gas.

Conversion of the plant was announced in 2005 but the plan was cancelled in 2006. In August 2011, work started again, but stopped this month.

OPG reported the 2006 cancellation of the conversion cost Ontarians $11 million, and the cost of a 2012 cancellation will total $9 million, including $5.5 million to Union Gas and $3.5 million to OPG for “engineering, project management and other” costs, according to OPG documents researched by the NDP.

“The McGuinty Liberals spent hundreds of millions of dollars to cancel the Mississauga and Oakville plants just to save a few seats,” Bisson said.

“People are tired of paying the price for politicians playing politics with our power system,” he said.

The station’s conversion to run on natural gas was put on hold this month by the Liberals, because the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) says there are better, and cheaper ways to power the North.

Halting the conversion, the OPA said, will save $400 million, and power can be generated from other sources, such as southern Ontario via an expanded east-west tie-line. The government has not made a final decision about the conversion, as the OPA is still finalizing its alternative plan.

The province is phasing out coal-fired power generation at plants like the Thunder Bay Generating Station. The deadline to be off coal is Dec. 31, 2014.