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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A little advice

Premier Kathleen Wynne has asked TD Bank President Ed Clark how the province can “optimize” assets like the LCBO and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) in order to help slay the province’s deficit.

We don’t know a whole lot about selling beer and wine (although we are familiar with the purchasing side), but when it comes to OPG, we had a few words of advice for Mr. Clark: Stop this underperforming crown corporation from wasting more money on bloated nuclear projects.

In our submission to Mr. Clark, we pointed out that all the dividends and income taxes paid by OPG and Hydro One over the last 15 years have gone to paying down the debt left by Ontario Hydro’s nuclear cost debacles instead of paying for transit, school repairs or better health care.

This $20 billion debt has also sucked up every cent in provincial income tax payments from more than 70 local electric utilities and, of course, has left every electricity ratepayer paying a debt retirement charge on hydro bills. If Ontario wants to cut its debt and deficit, the last thing it should be doing is allowing OPG to carry on with another high-risk, low-return nuclear project.

As numerous commentators, including former bank economist Jeff Rubin, have pointed out recently, we’d all be better off if Ontario dropped its fixation with uneconomic nuclear projects and builds a partnership with Quebec to trade affordable renewable power instead.

The Premier of Quebec, who is hard at work trying to slay his own deficit, gets it. He says a deal is doable and that “the price will be right.” After all, his province has power to spare and needs to build new export markets.

If Premier Wynne really wants to boost OPG’s returns, she should order the utility to focus on the 54 low-cost water power generating stations it inherited from Ontario Hydro instead of sinking us back into debt with another uneconomic nuclear project.

Read our submission: Maximizing the Value of OPG.

- Angela Bischoff

Let’s put ending electricity separatism at the top of the Premiers Meeting agenda

Later this month, Canada’s premiers will be meeting in Charlottetown, PEI to discuss energy issues . This is a great opportunity for the Premiers of Ontario and Quebec to put their heads together and strike an electricity trade deal that can have big benefits for both provinces.

By importing low-cost Quebec water power, Ontario can save more than $600 million per year - or $12 billion over 20 years. By exporting power to Ontario, Quebec can increase its annual export revenues by more than $600 million. That’s serious coin that can be spent on schools and hospitals or deficit reduction in Quebec, and big money that can be saved by Ontario electricity ratepayers and businesses. Plus, Ontario avoids piling up another mountain of nuclear debt on its already sagging bottom line.

We’re looking for Premier Wynne to walk away from Charlottetown with a framework for making a win-win deal with our neighbours. In fact, this deal should be about as close to a “no brainer” as any decision Premiers Wynne and Couillard will make in the next four years.

You can send Premier Wynne a message encouraging her to get the ball rolling in PEI by clicking here.

Please pass this message on to your friends.

Thank you.

- Angela Bischoff

The nuclear industry doesn’t want you to think about Quebec

The Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) is very worried that Ontarians have discovered that they are being taken for a ride by expensive nuclear projects.

Today, the CNA made its opposition to clean water power imports from Quebec clear in an opinion piece in the Toronto Star (in response to our own op ed). It’s certainly not surprising that the nuclear industry lobby doesn’t want Ontario to look at a cheaper, cleaner and lower risk product instead of the expensive proposition it is peddling. But its objections to importing water power at half the estimated cost of power from a re-built Darlington Nuclear Station really raised our eyebrows:

  • The CNA claims that Ontario can only get Quebec power to the border before it becomes bottlenecked despite the fact that the Quebec grid directly connects to Ontario’s own high-voltage transmission system, the equivalent of seamlessly moving from Quebec’s multi-lane Route 20 to Ontario’s Highway 401.
  • The CNA cherry picked some recent higher spot market prices for Hydro-Québec being paid by U.S. states to try to make it seem like nuclear prices are competitive. It’s a nice try, but Quebec’s own Commission sur les enjeux énergétiques du Québec found that the province will be exporting most of its power at a rate of around 3 cents per kWh for the foreseeable future due to factors like competition from natural gas fired generators and transmission constraints with the U.S. northeast. But frankly, we’re willing to let the market decide – let’s see a guaranteed all-cost price for nuclear power versus the best Quebec can offer through an open competitive bidding process. Somehow, we doubt the CNA will go for it.
  • The CNA wants us to believe that Quebec’s high winter demand for power is a problem, when it’s actually a benefit. Ontario power demand peaks in summer, and we often have excess wind power in winter that we can sell to our neighbours when they need it. They, in turn, can sell us the water power in the summer that they saved from using our exports in the winter. It’s a win-win.
  • Quebec exports will be available 99% of the time. Compare that to the 81% capacity factor for Darlington in 2013. Hydro-electricity from Quebec can meet our electricity needs much more reliably than Ontario Power Generation’s aging CANDU reactors.

Quebec Ontario benefitsOf course, none of the CNA’s disinformation is surprising given that every nuclear project in Ontario’s history has gone massively over budget and been completed behind schedule – the current Darlington rebuild being no exception. If you were selling a product that always arrives late at a significantly higher-than-promised cost, you’d probably be pretty scared by savvy competitors too.

But we should not treat the long-subsidized nuclear industry as some sort of charity case that requires huge public subsidies while turning our backs on a completely viable alternative. It’s time to start reaping the benefits of increased electricity trade between our two provinces and tune out electricity separatists like the CNA.

- Angela Bischoff

P.S. For another critique of the CNA's position, see the letter sent to the Toronto Star by engineer Malcolm Hamilton.

What’s in it for Quebec?

One of the questions we frequently hear about the idea of increasing water imports to Ontario is “What’s in it for Quebec?”

Quebec Ontario benefitsAs it turns out, quite a bit. According to the Commission sur les enjeux énergétiques du Québec, which looked into the province’s energy future in 2013, the province will be exporting the majority of its power at low prices (about 3 cents per kWh) for the foreseeable future. That’s because shale gas and increased efficiency have put strong downward pressure on electricity prices in the U.S. Northeast, and because Quebec simply cannot export any more power during peak periods to the U.S. market due to transmission line constraints.

Quebec is hoping that new transmission lines will help it address the latter problem, but these lines will take some years – and hundreds of millions of dollars – to construct and not everyone on the U.S. side is welcoming of new transmission corridors through places like the Adirondack Mountains.

So what’s a province with a growing surplus of water power to do? Well, one idea is to split the difference between the price of Quebec’s exports to the U.S. and Ontario Power Generation’s forecast of the cost of power from a re-built Darlington Nuclear Station in Ontario (currently 8.3 cents per kWh). This would allow Quebec to earn substantial additional revenues – in the order of $600 million per year – without having to string a single kilometre of new transmission line.

While power prices on the open market rise and fall with cold winters and cool summers, Quebec’s expert panel was clear that the province needed to explore more options on how to maximize the benefit of its water power resources. What the Commission didn’t touch on was the fact that Quebec could also earn greater revenue by improving its energy efficiency, thereby freeing up even more water power for export without having to build a single new dam.

One of the best ways for Quebec to maximize the benefit of its water power resources is to strike a long-term deal with Ontario to replace high-cost nuclear energy. With both provinces struggling to tame difficult deficits and paying down large public debts, such a deal could be a real gift to both parties, saving Ontario at least $600 million a year and nearly doubling the price Quebec receives for its power.

For our full assessment, developed with the Quebec environmental organization Equiterre, of how both provinces will benefit from increased electricity trade, click here. And see the coverage of our recently released assessment by the Canadian Press and Le Devoir.

- Angela Bischoff

Darlington re-build over budget before a single shovel hits the ground

With Ontario Power Generation (OPG) admitting that its Darlington re-build project is already $300 million over budget even before any actual construction work has begun, it is time for Premier Wynne to pull the plug on what is certain to be another financial disaster for Ontario’s electricity system.
In the Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP) released in 2013, the government outlined seven conditions for nuclear projects, including “Require OPG to hold its contractors accountable to the nuclear refurbishment schedule and price.”
Accountability, in this case, seems to consist of admitting that work on the plant “campus” – not the reactors themselves, just the stuff around them – will run at least 50% over budget. We can only imagine what will happen when OPG starts replacing miles of radioactive tubing and other equipment in the reactor cores – the real tricky business in any reactor re-build.
Surely the Wynne government can recognize an electricity system fiasco in the making by now. It is time for the Premier to order this project onto one of the “off ramps” promised in the LTEP for when nuclear projects spin out of control.
We can save billions of dollars by combining strong energy efficiency efforts, local renewable power, combined heat and power in buildings like schools and hospitals, and water power imports from Quebec instead of wasting another dime on Darlington.
With Moody’s changing the outlook for the Province of Ontario to “negative”, the last thing Ontario needs is another mountain of nuclear debt. Tell Premier Wynne to take the next exit on the Darlington re-build and adopt more sensible electricity solutions instead. Click here to send your letter now.
Thank you!

- Angela Bischoff 

Say no to increase in fixed monthly hydro charges

The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) is proposing to dramatically increase the fixed monthly customer charges for Ontario’s residential electricity consumers.

The OEB’s proposal would increase Toronto Hydro’s fixed monthly customer charge for residential consumers by approximately 60% - from $18 to $30 per month. Hydro One’s fixed charges would rise to $60 per month – an increase of 80-260%.

The OEB’s proposal, which will be combined with lower local utility charges per kWh of electricity consumed, will force small customers to subsidize large ones and reduce all customers’ incentive to conserve electricity – it’s Robin Hood in reverse.

Reducing the ability of consumers to lower their energy bills by conserving energy is unfair and economically irrational. Energy conservation and efficiency investments will lead to lower electricity rates and bills for all electricity consumers by reducing the need for new high-cost generation projects (e.g., Ontario Power Generation’s proposal to re-build its aging Darlington Nuclear Station at a cost of at least $12.9 billion).

Read our new report about the OEB’s proposal: Doubling the Fixed Monthly Customer Charge. And read the Toronto Star’s piece on it here.

Click here to send a message to Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli to let him know that you are opposed to higher fixed charges. Tell him you want to be rewarded, not penalized, for saving energy.

Please pass this message on to your friends.

Thank you.

Angela Bischoff