These two provinces just can’t plug in – by Konrad Yakabuski (Globe and Mail – June 26, 2014)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Provincial elections have now come and gone in Ontario and Quebec, with majority Liberal governments elected in both. Presumably, that means less political posturing, potentially clearing the way for a new era of electricity co-operation between Canada’s largest provinces.

Don’t hold your breath.

Electricity regulators in Ontario recently asked stakeholders whether the province should import more hydro power from Quebec. Their draft report is due next week. This coincides with a big push by Ontario’s anti-nuclear lobby to scrap the planned multibillion-dollar refurbishment of the Darlington and Bruce power stations in favour of buying “cheaper” electricity from Quebec.

Reorienting electricity policy in Canada, however, is tantamount to turning around an oil tanker. All the forces in the political universe seem to conspire against it, ensuring that past is prologue.

For decades, both provinces have operated in electricity policy silos, with self-sufficiency and economic development trumping consumer interests. Ontario invested heavily to create a world-class nuclear industry and Quebec’s massive hydro dams became surrogates of nationhood.

Overcapacity now plagues both provinces. But each is finding its old habits hard to kick.

Ontario had little choice but to nix the proposed construction of new reactors at Darlington. But Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government intends to proceed with the refurbishment of Crown-owned Darlington’s existing reactors to extend their lives for up to three decades. It also plans to refurbish the Bruce station on Lake Huron, which is majority owned by a unit of the Ontario municipal employees’ pension fund. Employee unions own a minority stake in Bruce.

No Ontario government wants to be seen as putting the nail in the coffin of a nuclear power industry that remains a major source of highly skilled jobs. While prospects for the sale of new Canadian reactors here and abroad remain bleak, Ontario remains home to a critical mass of nuclear expertise in business and academia that would quickly leave the province if Darlington and Bruce closed. That’s a hit have-not Ontario is unwilling to risk.

Closing a nuclear plant is also hugely expensive. Ontario is already on the hook for the cost of decommissioning the province’s oldest nuclear plant, the Pickering Generating Station, which is set to close in 2020. Adding Darlington and Bruce would mean billions in additional costs that would be borne by Ontario taxpayers or consumers, without any new power to show for it.

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