Province still mum on OPG plant’s long-term future – by Carl Clutchey (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal – July 30, 2013)

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

Those arguing in favour of keeping Thunder Bay’s power station open say the coal-burning plant got a shot in the arm thanks to an Ontario Energy Board ruling which says it must run at least for the duration of 2013.

But the province is remaining coy about the Ontario Power Generation station’s long-term fate, saying a proposed conversion to natural gas is still undecided.

“We have a responsibility to wait for the full assessment by the Ontario Power Authority before making any final decision on (an) conversion,” Energy Ministry spokeswoman Beckie Codd-Downey said Monday in an email.

The decision by the OEB was applauded by the Common Voice Northwest Energy Task Force, which until recently felt like “a voice in the wilderness.” Northwest co-chairman Iain Angus said the OEB decision reflects what the task force has said all along — that the region’s demand for electricity could be seriously compromised if the Thunder Bay station is taken off line.

“Back in January, during the cold snap, it was running at 150 megawatts,” Angus noted. About 125 people work at the Mission Island station, which has a maximum capacity of just over 30 mw.

The province has said that it will shut down all of its coal-fired stations by 2014. In November, it put on hold the proposed natural-gas conversion project for its Thunder Bay plant, pending a province-wide review of energy needs and suppliers.

Angus said the OEB ruling to keep the Thunder Bay plant running this year under a reliability must run contract means that the case for the “conversion of the Thunder Bay GS to natural gas has been strengthened considerably.”

The task force is confident that a similar contract will be put in place next year as well.

Angus added that it’s his understanding that the OPG may conduct a “test burn” at the Thunder Bay facility in the fall to see if could burn a moisture-resistant wood pellet that could be stored outdoors.

Codd-Downey said the government’s “top priority is to ensure Thunder Bay has the power they need, when they need it, including the power required for economic expansion in the Ring of Fire.”

A new high-voltage transmission line between Thunder Bay and Wawa could boost Northwestern Ontario’s power supply, but Angus said the Thunder Bay plant will still be needed in the mix after the east-west tie line is complete.

The 230,000-volt line is supposed to be in service by 2017, but Angus said that date may be too optimistic.