Guelph Mercury
December 5, 2012
Scott Tracey

Guelph councillors prefer local energy generation projects to more power lines

GUELPH – City councillors did not object Monday night to a proposal which would see additional power lines coming into Guelph, but neither did they roll out the welcome mat.

Instead, councillors endorsed a series of staff recommendations aimed at pushing forward proposed local solar, biogas and combined heat and power generation projects which have been stalled for years at the Ontario Power Authority.

There is a belief those projects — along with stepped-up conservation efforts — could delay the need for more power lines coming into the city.

Hydro One is planning to refurbish much of the aging high-voltage infrastructure in the Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge region to better meet increasing demands for power.

But councillors heard the city has not been involved in an ongoing study of energy supply, and that the study does not adequately consider the potential positive impact of the local generation projects awaiting approval.

Those projects, if approved, could represent enough generation capacity to meet 25 per cent of Guelph’s average electrical load, or 20 per cent of the city’s peak summer demand.

Jack Gibbons, chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, said the OPA and Hydro One are attempting to meet Guelph’s future needs with new transmission lines and a potential $500-million gas-fired plant to meet peak demand.

“This doesn’t make sense because Guelph’s needs can be met at much lower cost,” through local generation and conservation, Gibbons said.

Evan Ferrari, representing a local solar firm, said Hydro One has a long history of over-estimating future demand. He noted Guelph, by contrast, has a proven history of staving off costly infrastructure upgrades through conservation, noting the 15-year extension of the Eastview Landfill Site and deferred water infrastructure.

“We’ve done it before with waste, we’ve done it with water conservation and we can do it with energy,” Ferrari said.

But Coun. Karl Wettstein questioned what would happen if the transmission lines were delayed and the local generation projects were not approved or did not generate enough additional power.

“Unfortunately we and our citizens carry the risk,” Wettstein said.

Nobody from Guelph Hydro attended the meeting. But in a position paper included in the council agenda, chief executive Barry Chuddy said even if the 60 megawatts worth of solar and other local generation projects are approved it would provide at best “breathing room” until the Hydro One upgrades are complete.

“In a nutshell, local generation buys us time but doesn’t eliminate the need for transmission upgrades,” Chuddy wrote.

He also expressed concern delaying the transmission upgrades will “jeopardize our ability to provide a reliable supply of power to our customers” and restrict the city’s ability to grow.

Wettstein said ultimately it doesn’t matter what Guelph thinks of the transmission upgrades.

“Hydro One, whether we agree with them or not, is going to make a decision based on what they feel are the needs of the province,” Wettstein said.

Coun. Jim Furfaro expressed concern about what would happen if the proposed Guelph generation projects do not receive approval.

“If these projects aren’t accepted … what are we left with?” he asked. “We’re left with infrastructure we’re told needs to be replaced by 2015.”

Councillors ultimately approved a series of recommendations asking the province to approve the Guelph projects and to include city representatives in future talks about local energy supply.