July 24, 2014

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

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.