Ottawa Citizen
October 16, 2013

Nuclear must be part of Ontario’s energy mix

Since the 2003 North American blackout that left 10 million Ontarians — and another 45 million people in the U.S. — without power, the Ontario government has done a good job of not just building up the power supply, but also helping reduce consumption. Research by the Ontario Clean Air Alliance shows Ontario’s electricity consumption has fallen 10 per cent since 2005, while supply has gone up 13 per cent.

And according to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the body responsible for the reliability of continental supply, Ontario’s electricity consumption and peak demand will continue to fall until at least 2021, due to factors such as the recession, conservation and new technology. Indeed, Ontario is awash in so much electricity today, it is selling the power to other jurisdictions, and paying wind power generators not to produce electricity — to save money. All of which suggests the minority Liberal government is right to put on hold its plans to build two new nuclear plants at a cost of $15 billion.

Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli announced last week that the province has such a comfortable surplus of electricity, it doesn’t make sense to spend billions on generating nuclear power it doesn’t need right now. Chiarelli said the Bruce and Darlington plants would, however, be refurbished. Nuclear power, which now accounts for about 57 per cent of Ontario’s power, will go down to about 47 per cent. But it will continue to remain the bedrock of electricity supply in the province, as it should.

The thing with nuclear energy is that the cost of new plants always runs over budget, and handling waste is never easy. But nuclear power is an energy source we just can’t do without, and thank goodness, Ontario’s safety record has so far been stellar.

Chiarelli says wind, solar and other green energy sources will continue play a big role in filling any gaps in the supply chain. Even more promising, other experts say, because Ontario uses more energy per capita than many of its competitors — 27 per cent more than New York State for instance — there’s still more room for conservation.

Ten years after the big blackout, Ontario has made great strides. Rising supply and falling demand have combined to bring down the average market price an eye-popping 58 per cent — from 4.78 cents per kWh in 2006, to 2.03 per kWh in the first half of last year. That is the good news. The bad news is that despite the huge plunge in the market price, consumers are not seeing the benefits in their bills. Extra charges to pay for such things as nuclear generation, money-losing coal-fired plants (the last of which is supposed to close in 2014) and debt retirement, have brought the cost to consumers to 8.14 cents per kWh.

The Ontario government is currently working on its long-term energy plan, which Chiarelli says will look at all aspects of supply and demand, and find ways to produce more green energy. That’s well and good. But the plan should also focus seriously on how to align the cost of electricity with the market. Right now, there are so many factors going into the price of electricity that it is difficult for consumers to see the results of conservation, or plan for the future.