The Toronto Star
January 15, 2012
Patty Winsa

Small ‘cogeneration’ energy plants rejected

A plan to create a more reliable electricity grid has come unplugged after the OPA rejected the latest proposals to build three cogeneration plants in the GTA.

A spokesperson for the power authority would only say in an email that the proposals, at Redpath Sugar on the waterfront, Atlantic Packaging in Scarborough and GM in Oshawa, didn’t meet “the necessary criteria.”

Cogeneration plants, called combined heat and power, can be twice as energy-efficient as natural gas-fired power plants and have been championed by the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. They burn gas to create electricity, but use the by-product — heat — to create steam for industrial use. The OPA wanted to add 300 megawatts in total to the grid in Southern Ontario.

But it’s doubtful, had the plans been approved, that Toronto’s aging infrastructure could have handled the extra load, says Tanya Bruckmueller, spokesperson for Toronto Hydro.

Hydro lines to businesses and homes in northeast Scarborough are regularly failing by not transmitting power. “There are definite limitations to the system as it stands because of the overall age of our equipment,” she says, some of which is unchanged since it was installed in the ’50s and ’60s.

“Just look down some of the older streets in Toronto and you can see the age of the poles, the overhead lines. The type of construction is not up to standard,” says Bruckmueller. “It still works, but it’s going to come to a point where we need to upgrade that.”

The city is powered by two main lines, one from the east and the other from the west. An outage on either would leave parts of the city, including the downtown, in darkness. Transformers, which lower the voltage from the outside lines, are overloaded and plans have been afoot for years to generate electricity from within.

But projects such as the Ashbridges biogas cogeneration plant, which could generate 10 megawatts of electricity, have stalled as they wait for transmission upgrades, in this case a breaker replacement at the Leaside transformer station, which won’t be complete until 2013.

The city is studying the feasibility of community energy systems generating less than 10 megawatts and will issue a report by June. And the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), Hydro One and Toronto Hydro are studying the grid’s limitations, with plans to improve it by 2013, says Kazia Fraser, a communications and marketing consultant for the City of Toronto, in an email.

Paul Doyle, vice president of finance and administration at Atlantic Packaging, said the company was disappointed when OPA turned down its cogeneration application. It was the second refusal for the company, which competed in a call for submissions by the OPA in 2008-09.

“We made significant strides to develop a much more efficient and cost-efficient project, and we credit OPA with that, because they sent us back to the drawing board,” says Doyle. He says the company was rejected this time around essentially because the price per megawatt was still too high.

But one of the problems, says Doyle, is that cogeneration projects will vary from one another depending on the type of industry and the surrounding community. But the OPA’s submission process requires that everyone follow the exact same rules.

Cogeneration is feasible for only a handful of companies in Southern Ontario, says Doyle, and many have already been refused. He thinks it would be better if the power authority worked one-on-one to develop projects.

The OPA is still in the process of considering submissions for smaller cogeneration plants of 20 megawatts or less.