Kathleen Wynne’s Ontario Liberal Government just announced they’ll be scrapping $3.8 billion of renewable energy projects under the Large Renewable Procurement (LRP II) program. This decision comes at a time when the Liberals are lagging in the polls and being reprimanded by the public over high hydro prices and the privatization of Hydro One.
Wynne is very cognisant that the next provincial election is less than two years away, so government spinners are busy framing this decision as saving rate payers money – preventing $2.45 from being added to the average homeowners monthly hydro bill. Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault says the decision is “common sense” after the province’s electricity planning agency (IESO) recently advised that there was no “urgent need” for additional supply given Ontario’s surplus of generating capacity.
The real story, however, is in what they’re not saying.
A recent recusal of the National Energy Board review panel for Energy East has left TransCanada’s controversial pipeline project in limbo. In November 2013, Ontario’s Minister of Energy asked the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) to examine and report on Energy East from an Ontario perspective. I attended several community sessions in northern Ontario to learn more. The discussions were framed around the impact on consumers of converting a portion of the existing natural gas pipeline to oil and the environmental effects.
What the OEB failed to address were the impacts of massive power requirements from the province in order for the pipeline to go ahead. You see, in order to pump heavy crude (Alberta Sands) through a pipeline, it needs to be diluted with chemicals and pumped at a high pressure – anywhere from 800 to 1400 psi. There will be 30 pump stations in Ontario, each requiring about 20 megawatts (MW) of power. Quick math says Energy East would demand 600 MW from the Ontario grid alone.
The OEB panel at the Ontario Consultation sessions seemed surprised when I raised the electricity question – like they hadn’t considered it before – but I wasn’t buying it. The Energy East application to the NEB fails to address who will pay for the infrastructure required to extend transmission lines to these pumps. Instead, they simply say that power will be sourced from local utilities companies such as Hydro One and Hydro Ottawa. The question must be asked – will rate payers be forced to foot the bill if Energy East is ever approved? Wynne’s Liberals should be pressed to address the issue.
What it really looks like is that the provincial government conducted “Energy East Consultation” to cover their backsides because they knew down the road that they’d be asked to provide power to the pumps, essentially aiding in the fossil fuel project’s success. That doesn’t look so good for a government who ran on a promise to take real action on climate change. So they came up with a plan – when the controversy came to light, they could shift the optics by pointing at their renewable energy investments. Now with Energy East’s fate so uncertain, Wynne no longer needs the scapegoat. What she needs now is support in the run-up to the next election and a positive spin on the energy file.
The Liberals are planning to keep the Pickering nuclear plant open until 2024 while they spend $12.8 billion refurbishing the Darlington plant. The nuclear industry still lacks a plan on how to safely dispose of used nuclear fuel rods. The $3.8 billion in renewable projects scrapped this week would have provided 1000 MW of power. The Darlington plant produces 3500 MW.
If Wynne’s Liberals truly had a long term climate and energy plan, they would back down from funding aging nuclear infrastructure, invest in renewable energy and take a clear position opposing Energy East.
Ontario hydro consumers must demand better than the Liberals’ short-sighted approach to energy and politics. Otherwise, we’ll look back in the coming years and wish that $2.45 was the only provincially-inflicted increase we saw on our monthly bills.