Guelph Tribune
January 3, 2013
Doug Hallett

Farbridge discusses controversial ‘peaker’ plant

An electrical generation “peaker” plant of the sort cancelled amid controversy in Mississauga and Oakville could be coming to this area, but likely not to Guelph, says Mayor Karen Farbridge.

It’s more likely such a power plant, fuelled by natural gas, would be built in Cambridge, says Farbridge.

Guelph, Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo are seen by Hydro One, which delivers electricity across Ontario, as part of the same region when it comes to electrical needs.

And, Farbridge said, Hydro One sees this four-city region as a “constraint area,” in which there isn’t enough transmission capacity and isn’t enough regional generation of electricity to meet peak demand.

Local opponents of Hydro One’s plans to boost its transmission capacity in Guelph have warned that a “peaker” plant – like the ones whose expensive cancellations in Mississauga and Oakville in the past couple of years have generated a lot of controversy at Queen’s Park – could be coming to Guelph.

However, “it’s being looked at more in the Cambridge area,” rather than in Guelph, Farbridge in a recent interview.

“But it hasn’t been sited,” she added.

Finding a politically acceptable site for “peaker” plants, which are fired up when needed to meet peak demand for electricity, “is not an easy thing to do,” she said.

“People don’t like them in their backyard. Oakville didn’t,” she noted with a wry smile.

It’s coincidental that Guelph, which adopted a Community Energy Initiative in 2007, is part of a “constraint area” and also a place where a clash is being seen between two visions for Ontario’s electrical future, Farbridge said.

“I think there is a collision between two paradigms and approaches,” she said, likening the situation to 20 years ago when a similar clash occurred locally over water supply.

“I see it as no different from where we were in the ’90s, where we were in the ’90s with water.”

At that time, water engineers were focused on boosting water supply, through things such as more wells and reservoirs, and they were “resistant” to water-conservation approaches that took much of the focus off of new supply, she said.

In the end, Guelph approved a long-term water strategy that “integrated” new-supply plans with water-conservation and efficiency initiatives, she said.

Because Guelph is “very much ahead” of other Ontario cities with its Community Energy Initiative, it is not surprising that a clash regarding future energy strategy is playing out here, Farbridge said.

The Community Energy Initiative includes promotion of local generation of electricity from renewable energy sources and from local power plants that create both electricity and heat for local buildings. This is up against a vision of centralized power plants and long-distance transmission of electricity, she said.

“It’s not either/or. These things should be integrated,” Farbridge said.

In a recent letter to city hall, Guelph Hydro backed Hydro One’s controversial plan to refurbish the city’s electricity distribution system.

Farbridge wasn’t critical of the position taken by Guelph Hydro, though. Its top priority is the reliability of the power system, and its second priority is the city’s Community Energy Initiative, she told the Trib.

Guelph Hydro has made a number of applications to the Ontario Power Authority for combined heat-and-power projects and other renewable-energy projects, but these projects haven’t yet been approved and remain “stalled,” Farbridge said.

With a provincial election looming and with no assurance that these projects will go ahead, Guelph Hydro can’t very well oppose Hydro One’s transmission refurbishment plans for Guelph, she said.

“I fully understand why they have taken the position right now” that Hydro One’s plans need to proceed, she said.

City hall appreciates Guelph Hydro’s ongoing support of the Community Energy Initiative, Farbridge said. “Like us, they do not see supply and demand management as two solitudes, but rather part of an integrated response to energy management.”