The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
The province will have a plan in place on how to meet Northern Ontario’s growing energy needs within a few months, Ontario’s energy minister assured Thursday.
The question of how, exactly, to provide the necessary power to the region as it prepares for a mining boom was the topic of discussion at a meeting Thursday between Energy Minister Chris Bentley and representatives of the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) and the City of Thunder Bay.
The gathering didn’t produce anything concrete, save for an assurance that there will be more meetings on the matter.
Bentley said that was the point.
“I was determined that we not come in with a conclusion,” he said after the meeting at the Airlane hotel. “We didn’t come in with a report from the OPA, because I said we need to hear, in detail, from the energy task force and from the experts in the region.
“We’re not leaving with a conclusion, because they’ve got more work to do — both sides have got more discussions to have, so that we make sure we fully identify not only what the opportunities are, what the load energy requirements are, but the timing of those requirements, so we can get the infrastructure right.
“I’m really quite confident that we’re going to get to wherever we need to be in the coming months.”
While the province is determined to hold more talks, the city and region are concerned that the process is being drawn out.
Several mines are expected to come online within the next eight years, which will bring with them major power requirements. Coun. Iain Angus — who chairs the city’s energy task force — said that a 500-megawatt bump in power requirements is expected in 2016.
At the same time, conversion of the Thunder Bay Generating Station from coal to natural gas remains stalled due to the OPA assuring the region’s power needs can be met in other ways, and for much cheaper. Halting the conversion, the OPA has said, will save $400 million, but the agency has not yet offered specifics.
And time is running out.
The province has said no more coal can be burned for power in Ontario as of Dec. 31, 2014.
Meanwhile, regional representatives maintain that the only way the region’s power needs can be met is by converting the generating station to natural gas and keeping it running.
Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs said the lack of real movement on the issue is becoming “frustrating.”
“You can see the time flitting away,” he said. “It’s imperative that we get that conversion done.”
Angus said the matter is coming down to educating the OPA on the realities and requirements of modern mining.
“We’re very confident that those mines will come on stream when they say they will,” he said. “The OPA has a more conservative view of that, and so part of the challenge between the two organizations is to give the OPA the confidence level that these mines will in fact come on stream.
“On the supply side, we’ve got agreement on (hydroelectric), we’ve got agreement on the east-west (tieline which will move power between southern and Northern Ontario). Where we have some difference of opinions is on the amount of production from the Atikokan generating station, the availability of power to import from Manitoba or Minnesota.
“They (OPA) believe that it might be possible, we don’t think it will be. We can’t build a mine on ‘might,’ we have to build it on facts and hard numbers.”
Angus said the OPA has assured that the region will have the power it needs, but has yet to answer how.
“We will continue to push for (the conversion of the Thunder Bay Generating Station),” he said.
Hobbs said there may be other options.
It’s possible, he said, that the Thunder Bay Generating Station could be granted a temporary exemption and continue burning coal past the provincial deadline.
“That has happened,” he said. “There are possibilities, and we have discussed that at the inter-governmental affairs level, whether we could be grandfathered in.
“We’ve talked to the other parties, so that could be a possibility.”
No date for a next meeting with the province has been set, but Hobbs said the city will “keep their feet to the fire, for sure.”