Environmentalists slam Conservative plan to put scrubbers on coal plants

Canadian Press
September 13, 2007

Environmentalists slam Conservative plan to put scrubbers on coal plants (Elxn-Ont-Conservative)

NANTICOKE, Ont. (CP) _ The Progressive Conservative plan to spend up to $1.3 billion putting scrubbers on Ontario‘s pollution-spewing coal plants will do nothing to fight climate change, and the cash would be better spent on conservation and green energy, environmentalists charged Thursday.

Conservative Leader John Tory used the backdrop of Ontario‘s largest coal-fired plant in Nanticoke, Ont., Canada‘s fifth-largest air polluter, to reiterate his intention to continue relying on coal power if he‘s elected Oct. 10.

Calling global warming “the greatest challenge of our times,‘‘ Tory said he will look at closing the plants but not until there is a reliable alternative _ even if that means changing the law written by the Liberals that requires Ontario‘s coal plants to close by 2014.

But in the meantime, he said he won‘t sit idly by while 1,900 Ontario residents die prematurely in part because of air pollution.

“(Premier) Dalton McGuinty has stood by over the last four years while people got sick and some, in fact by his own admission, lost their lives,‘‘ said Tory.

“I will not do that. I will put those scrubbers on because they can be put on at a reasonable cost. What cost human life? This is the right thing to do.‘‘

Not so, said Keith Stewart of the World Wildlife Fund.

Scrubbers will take almost two years to install, making them a costly investment if the plants are going to close by 2014, he said. More importantly, he said scrubbers do nothing to cut the greenhouse gas emissions belching out of the coal-plant smokestacks.

“Scrubbers themselves take energy and use more coal,‘‘ Stewart said. “They do nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It doesn‘t help with climate change.‘‘

The Conservatives would be better off taking that $1.3 billion and investing it in conservation and renewable energy so coal plants aren‘t necessary any more, he added.

“That‘s a lot of money,‘‘ Stewart said. “It‘s an end-of-the-pipe solution.‘‘

Jack Gibbons, head of the Clean Air Alliance, said it would cost $1.6 billion to put scrubbers on Nanticoke alone and that would only reduce harmful emissions by less than one per cent.

It doesn‘t make sense to advocate for “band-aid solutions‘‘ when there are viable alternatives out there which could allow Ontario to close its coal plants by 2010, he said.

“This is very disappointing,‘‘ Gibbons said. “John Tory should know better. It‘s an irresponsible position. It‘s fiscally irresponsible and a waste of tax dollars.‘‘

The Liberals initially promised to close Ontario‘s coal plants by 2007, despite warnings that it couldn‘t be done. They subsequently pushed the closures back several times, drawing pointed opposition charges of another broken promise, before writing the 2014 closures into regulation this summer.

The Liberals likened Tory‘s scrubber plan to putting “a filter on a cigarette,‘‘ saying they would give the Conservatives an excuse to keep the “Dickens-era‘‘ plants open indefinitely.

“There‘s only one party in this election which is committed to eliminating coal-fired generation in the province of Ontario, only one government which has ever shut down a coal-fired generating station,‘‘ said Premier Dalton McGuinty.

“Our plan has spawned an exciting new industry in Ontario for renewables. When I got this job we had 10 wind turbines in Ontario. Now we have 700 either built or under construction.‘‘

NDP Leader Howard Hampton is vowing to close Nanticoke by 2011 and mothball all coal plants by 2014.

“Scrubbers don‘t make sense,‘‘ he said. “The whole idea of trying to run coal _ which is the biggest contributor of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide _ has just got a very limited shelf life. I think the more people focus on the issue, the more people are going to say this won‘t work.‘‘