The Ontario Clean Air Alliance sends out email bulletins on air quality and energy issues two to three times a month. Read our latest bulletins below or browse the archive.  You can also add your own thoughts on the issues raised in our bulletins by clicking the "Add Comment" link below each posting. 

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We'll see SNC Lavalin Nuclear in court

In March 2011, the Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA) filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to obtain details of the contract between Aecon Construction, SNC Lavalin Nuclear and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) for the re-building of four reactors at the Darlington Nuclear Station on Lake Ontario.

Aecon Construction and SNC Lavalin, not surprisingly, are not keen to reveal just how rich this mega contract is and refused to provide the information. However, the the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC) ruled that the companies should provide relevant details, a decision Aecon and SNC then appealed to the Superior Court.

The companies are insisting that they were “confused” by the Freedom of Information request process, which the Privacy Commissioner’s counsel notes is rather odd, considering that these “are multi-billion dollar companies that have access to a wealth of internal and external legal resources [and] have a history of being involved in access to information requests in other Canadian jurisdictions.``

The companies are also trying to use another technicality to shield the details of the deal, including whether it allows cost overruns to be passed onto taxpayers and ratepayers. They are insisting that contracts are not covered by FOI legislation because they represent information provided by one party to another. The Commissioner's counsel strongly disagrees in her response, citing an explanation from the Government of Canada:

“.. . The intention of Parliament in exempting financial and commercial information from disclosure applies to confidential information submitted to the government, not negotiated amounts for goods or services. Otherwise, every contract amount with the government would be exempt from disclosure, and the public would have no access to this important information ...”

Given the long history of secret deals in Ontario’s nuclear power sector that have led to massive cost overruns – and massive debt for Ontario taxpayers and ratepayers – the OCAA believes the public has every right to know more about the deal struck between OPG and these two construction and engineering giants. We would like to thank the Information and Privacy Commissioner for robustly defending our right to see this information.

We’re hoping we won’t have to repeat this difficult and time consuming exercise with another secret nuclear deal – an agreement to rebuild reactors at the Bruce Nuclear Station. Instead of forcing public interest groups to file freedom of information requests after the fact, the government should walk its talk on openness and transparency by sending any proposed Bruce Deal to the Ontario Energy Board for a full public review.

Please join us to observe the proceedings as well as to show your support for greater transparency in government decision making this coming Monday :

  • Monday March 2, 10 a.m.(come at any time during the day)
  • Osgoode Hall, 130 Queen St. West (NE corner of Queen/University), in Courtroom # 3 (on 2ndfloor), entrance off Queen St., Toronto

A little sunshine can keep everyone healthier.

Hope to see you on Monday. Thanks.

Angela Bischoff

p.s. Our Ontario budget proposal to take a pass on rebuilding the Darlington Nuclear Plant in favour of importing lower-cost water power from Quebec has clearly made some vested interests in the Ontario nuclear industry very nervous. Our proposal on the government's budget consultation website has suddenly been inundated with "thumbs down" votes. This orchestrated campaign to deep six our idea just shows how the nuclear industry really can't compete with our highly sensible proposal. Don't let them get away with it! Give our idea a thumbs up right now.

Getting Ontarians moving while saving them money

The Ontario Government is looking for ways to stretch its budget while investing in long overdue infrastructure improvements, like expanded transit and safe bridges. 
Here’s the idea we have submitted: Refocus our electricity system away from high-cost nuclear and toward lower cost water power imports from Quebec.  You can help us demonstrate strong public support for this sensible solution by giving it the thumbs up at: https://talk.ontario.ca/idea/getting-ontarians-moving-while-saving-them-money
By cancelling the already over budget Darlington Re-Build Project, the province can free up $12.9 to $32 billion of government money that can be invested in transportation infrastructure instead.
Meanwhile, signing a long-term electricity contract with Quebec to replace power from Darlington would save electricity ratepayers $14 billion over 20 years.
Transmission system upgrades needed to take full advantage of the low-cost power Quebec has available would cost only $500 million – a cost that would be paid back in less than a year through electricity bill cost savings.
Investing in a more flexible and lower risk electricity system can pay off with lower electricity rates and greater resources for needed infrastructure investments in other areas, such as transit.
For more information, please see Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan: A One Year Review.

Who will stand up against secrecy?

Another secret power deal is the last thing the people of Ontario need. At least three of the candidates in the upcoming Sudbury by-election have gotten that message and are calling for an independent review of any multi-billion dollar deal to rebuild reactors at the Bruce Nuclear Station on Lake Huron.

But despite Premier Wynne’s commitment to running “the most open and transparent government in the country,” Liberal candidate Glenn Thibeault is refusing to commit to a review of what could easily be the largest contract with a private sector company ever signed by the Government of Ontario. Progressive Conservative candidate Paula Peroni, meanwhile, says she can’t take a position until she has more information, something an independent review just might help with.

NDP candidate Suzanne Shawbonquit, Green Party candidate David Robinson and Independent Andrew Olivier all understand the huge risks involved in signing another blank cheque for a nuclear re-build project given the record of every such project in Ontario’s history going massively over budget.

They also understand that we need a review to determine whether we even need the power from Bruce, given dropping electricity demand and more cost-effective alternatives, such as water power imports from Quebec.

A full Ontario Energy Board review is the only way we can ensure that signing a $60 - $111 billion deal to re-build aging reactors is the best solution to meeting our electricity needs. It’s time to bring this deal out of the backrooms and into the light.

Help us spread the word about a need for a transparent and thorough review of any Bruce Deal by ordering copies of our new pamphlet. They’re free and a great way to help make sure we make decisions based on the real facts, not just private interests. Order them now! Thanks.

Angela Bischoff

p.s. I'm inviting people to help me leaflet blitz Premier Wynne's riding (Don Valley West). If you can help, let me know.

Sunshine needed amidst potential conflict of interest

Sunshine needed amidst potential conflict of interest
A full public review of the huge deal being negotiated between the Ontario government and Bruce Power is critical given a large potential conflict of interest for those helping to shape the government’s negotiating position and responsible for power-system planning.
Two unions representing workers at the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) also have significant investments in Bruce Power, holding a total of 7% of the equity in the more than billion dollar private company. This arrangement puts IESO staff in the uncomfortable position of supporting negotiations with a company whose success or failure could have a significant impact on their union’s bottom line. The investments held by the Power Workers Union and the Society of Energy Professionals are not pension plan investments – they are direct investments of union funds in Bruce Power, creating a powerful link between the company’s profitability and the two unions’ financial positions.
Given the recent serious conflict of interest concerns raised at one of the newly merged IESO’s predecessors, the Ontario Power Authority, the government needs to take this potential conflict very seriously. And that means bringing these backroom negotiations out into the light of day by ordering a full review of any draft deal by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB).
An OEB review can ensure that any deal reached with Bruce truly is in the best interests of all Ontarians and that it represents good value for money. It is also our best chance for an unbiased comparison of any Bruce Power deal to other options, including lower cost electricity imports from Quebec.
Premier Wynne has stated that “We want to be the most open and transparent government in the country.” Only a full public OEB review of any Bruce deal can meet that standard.
Please send a letter to Premier Wynne here calling for a transparent review of any proposed Bruce deal, especially in light of a potential conflict of interest.
Thank you.
Angela Bischoff

Ontario Energy Board Grinches out on energy conservation

Ontario Energy Board Grinches out on energy conservation

Just before Christmas, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) quietly undermined one of the most important climate change initiatives in Ontario by putting arbitrary limits on programs designed to help us use natural gas more efficiently. 
It’s never good news when a regulatory decision is slipped out three days before Christmas and this was the case with the OEB’s Grinch-like announcement that it was capping spending by utilities on gas conservation programs, eliminating incentives for large industrial conservation programs, and severing the profit link that has driven highly effective gas conservation programs in Ontario.
The OEB’s outdated rationale that not all customers directly benefit from conservation programs looks pretty silly in an age of unchecked climate change, huge damage costs from wild weather, and rising consumer expenses.  Natural gas use is, next to transportation, the single biggest contributor to climate change in Ontario.  It is in all of our interests to reduce emissions by using gas as efficiently as possible.
The new utility conservation program budgets approved by the OEB, however, total less than half of what is currently allocated for electricity conservation in Ontario despite the fact that our natural gas consumption is almost double our electricity consumption.
Eliminating incentives for large industrial and commercial efficiency efforts, meanwhile, will likely put a huge dent in the enormous savings generated by some of the most cost-effective efficiency programs anywhere in North America.  Union Gas, for example, calculates that for every dollar it spends on these programs, its customers save $54.  Eliminating incentives will reduce the appeal of longer-term efficiency investments and the jobs linked to energy efficiency products and services.
And by removing the link between increased energy savings and increased profits for utilities, the OEB has again taken us backward to a time when utilities had no incentive to innovate or go beyond basic measures. 
The OEB’s backward thinking on gas conservation flies in the face of the Ontario Government’s smart and sensible Conservation First policy.  Instead, the OEB has fixated on short-term price impacts while ignoring much, much larger long-term costs.  It is time for Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli to step in and remind the OEB that we have a climate crisis on our hands, that deep energy efficiency is good for our economy, and that every dollar we spend on natural gas flows straight out of Ontario. 
Please contact Energy Minister Chiarelli and ask him to direct the OEB to:
  1. Allow Enbridge and Union Gas to increase their energy conservation budgets to  as much as $200 million per year each by 2020;
  2. Allow Enbridge and Union to provide financial incentives to their large volume industrial customers to encourage them to increase their energy productivity; and
  3. Make the promotion of energy conservation the most profitable course of action for these gas utilities.
Thank you,
Angela Bischoff
Outreach Director
P.S.  Better integrating Ontario and Quebec’s energy systems is another great way to improve our efficiency.  This Friday, York University will be hosting a discussion of the climate and cost benefits of closer electricity integration between the two provinces featuring a number of experts, including Globe and Mail columnist Jeffery Simpson (author of Hot Air: Meeting Canada’s Climate Change Challenge), Steven Guilbeault, Senior Director, Equiterre, Normand Mousseau, Professor,Université de Montréal and Co-President, Quebec Commission on Energy Issues, and Pierre-Oliver Pineau, Chair in Energy Sector Management, HEC Montreal.  To register for this free event, click here.

An important week for our climate, but together we can do more

This week, world leaders are once again sitting down together in Lima, Peru to talk climate. These giant talk-fests haven’t proven to be terribly effective in addressing our climate crisis, but this meeting may be the most important yet in simply recognizing that we can’t continue to delay – we have to act now to rein in runaway climate change.

Here in Ontario, we have taken a hugely important step forward by eliminating coal-fired electricity. The Ontario Clean Air Alliance led the fight to end dirty coal burning and we are immensely proud of this accomplishment.

Now we have a provincial government that is indicating that it serious about building on the climate benefits of the coal phase out. Ontario joined Quebec, California and British Columbia in announcing its intention to take strong action on climate change, including putting a price on carbon, at the Lima meeting this week.

The challenge is to build a leading low-carbon economy that drives growth in good green jobs and increases the competitiveness of our businesses while reducing our climate pollution. Again, Ontario has made some important commitments on paper: putting Conservation First to improve our energy efficiency, and continuing to expand renewable power.

But the devil is often in the details. For example, our research exposed the province’s lopsided spending on new nuclear plants compared to its spending on conservation and efficiency – that's the kind of important information that the Ontario Clean Air Alliance’s research arm brings to light.

Indeed, our research is helping to frame the discussion on climate action in Ontario. Our documentation of the many benefits of increasing imports of clean, renewable power from Quebec instead of getting sidetracked with costly, high-risk nuclear projects, has struck a chord with Ontarians.

Our research has an extraordinary impact on decision makers because of our highly credible, fact-based focus on making life better for Ontarians.

We’re reaching out today to ask you to support us in building the vision of the Ontario we all want – a province where clean, renewable energy is used as efficiently as possible. With our research we are countering lots of misinformation and outright myths to tell the real story behind Ontario’s energy choices. And we are pointing the way forward with compelling information on the cost savings and health and climate benefits of a low-carbon, high-efficiency approach to meeting our energy needs.

The OCAA has proven time and again that despite modest resources, we can achieve big outcomes. And that’s important, because our world today is facing the biggest challenge we have ever seen in the form of a rapidly unraveling climate system.

We need your support to help us continue to build the case for clean energy leadership in Ontario. Please donate to support our highly respected research today!

Thank you. And blessings of the season.

- Angela Bischoff