Still up in the air [Thunder Bay power plant] – by Leith Dunick ( – May 23, 2013)

Premier Kathleen Wynne promised Northwestern Ontario will have the energy it needs.

What she didn’t say Thursday during a brief visit to Thunder Bay was how the province would accomplish the feat. Wynne waltzed deftly around several direct questions about the future of the Thunder Bay Power Generating Station, which supporters of its closure suggest will save the province $400 million.

“This is an ongoing discussion. This is not a dead issue by any stretch of the imagination. We’re still working with the community and the Ministry of Energy is very much engaged with this,” Wynne said.

“I stand by that commitment to make sure we have the generating capacity necessary.” Asked about a demand earlier this month by Mayor Keith Hobbs to either re-start the conversion of the plant to natural gas, a plan halted by former energy minister Chris Bentley, or apologize like she did to southern Ontarians over the gas-plant closure scandal, once again Wynne toed the party line.

“I want to make sure we have the energy that’s necessary, because I want to see the region grow. I want to see economic success and growth, so I’m going to be focusing on how we make that happen. Obviously energy and generation capacity is very much part of that success,” Wynne said.

Hobbs, reached by email, said he wants specifics and thinks the premier should give them to Thunder Bay residents.

“The uncertainty surrounding energy needs in the Northwest is not conducive to economic growth in the region. Quite the opposite is true. Investors and the mining and forestry sector to name a few need to know that energy will not only be available, but priced properly to be competitive,” Hobbs said, calling for a meeting with Wynne at her earliest possible convenience.

“The Energy Task Force formed by the city of Thunder Bay has proven that the Ontario Power Authority is not a reliable source of information that Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli or the premier should rely on when making decisions on our energy needs. I would ask the premier to meet with myself and our Energy Task Force so that the premier can get the true picture. I would respectfully request that the premier facilitate that meeting sooner than later.”

In town less than a week from the one-year anniversary of last May 28’s flood disaster that left hundreds of homeowners battling sewage back-ups in their basements, the newly minted premier said she stands by the $17-million commitment the province originally made.

But questioned further about matching funds through the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program, Wynne would only say the province would continue to work with the community.

After months of being told the province would match funds collected by the Disaster Relief Committee on a two-for-one basis, it was later revealed the province would likely only contribute about $300,000 to help homeowners rebuild.

“It’s a process that’s worked very well, and as I say, the applications are still coming in, so we don’t really know what the final number is going to be.”

Wynne later admitted she wasn’t sure exactly what the province’s final dollar figure would be.

“We are committed to making sure that people get the money they are entitled to,” she said, reminding local media she was on the ground last May within days to see the devastation first-hand.

“There is no part of our process or our government that wants to step away from our obligation to making sure people get the resources that they’re entitled to. So we’re going to continue to work with the local members, who are huge advocates for the people in the community.”

Wynne also addressed stalled talks with Cliffs Natural Resources, who have said they are at least a year behind schedule starting a planned chromite mine at the much-anticipated Ring of Fire.

She said there are a number components to the project, and while the province is committed to moving it ahead, it’s not going to happen overnight.

“We need to make sure that the business interest, that that relations whip is intact and productive, but we also need to make sure that we have done the work with the First Nations communities, to make sure that the community supports, the health supports, the training supports, are in place,” Wynne said. “Those are parallel processes and the minister is very much engaged.

“We are as committed to the Ring of Fire as we have been all along. But it does take time to make sure all of the pieces are in place.”