The Chronicle Journal
September 20, 2014
Steven Fletcher

N.W.O. has 2 options for cheaper hydro

The lights are on in the Ontario provincial cabinet room but it doesn’t look as if anyone is home. Hydro One has managed to do the impossible — to transform itself into a power company that is powerless to plan a reasonable course for Ontario residents and industries that use electricity.

Nuclear power boondoggles; a shameful billion dollar cost to start and then abort construction of needed gas plants; environmentally damaging bird-grinding, noise-making windmills that charge far above the market rate for electricity; and an inability to look around at other provinces for solutions, have all caused huge economic and individual hardship.

Somehow in this environment of high hydro costs there are times when Ontario hydro gives the power away for free to large manufacturers. They do this because of technical reasons surrounding the load on its transmission systems. In other words, Hydro One has managed to create a system that generates too much power when demand is low with no way of stopping the generation. One cannot just turn off a nuclear reactor. Wind power only provides power when it’s windy and there is no way to store the power that wind creates so it must be used instantly. Coal and natural gas would nicely complement the nuclear power but of course coal has been phased out and who knows what will happen because of the natural gas scandals.

Recently at a premiers conference, Ontario agreed to look at the hydro power generated in neighbouring provinces. What a good idea! I’ve been advocating interconnections between provinces for my entire time in Parliament. Several articles have appeared in newspapers across the country. Let’s take a look at the options that Ontario has.

Quebec would seem to be a natural source of power with its abundance of clean and green hydro power. Quebec is Canada’s largest exporter of power to the United States so why can’t it send power to Ontario? There are some sophisticated technical issues that prevent straight up plug-in solutions but they can be overcome.

Let’s turn west. Manitoba Hydro could be Ontario’s Hydro One saviour. There is huge capacity in the Nelson River watershed. Up to 5,000 megawatts can still be generated with almost no flooding. Water is the greenest power there is.

The location of the Manitoba dams is one-half the distance closer to the Ring of Fire than anything from Quebec.

Manitoba has the advantage of generating the cheapest power in North America. We also know that it can be done. In fact, at one time there was a deal for Manitoba Hydro to send at least 1,300 megawatts to Ontario. The project was called “Conawapa” and although the contracts had been signed, the NDP provincial government under Bob Rae cancelled the deal and Ontario had to pay a $150-million cancellation penalty to Manitoba. This would have been a great project for Manitoba and Ontario but again the lights were on in the cabinet room in Toronto with nobody there. This is one of the great “what if” questions of power distribution in Canada and a tremendous opportunity lost.

In any case it’s water down the river and we can harness the energy for the future. A tragic consequence of the mismanagement of Hydro One generation is the impact it has had on Northwestern Ontario.

Northwestern Ontario, if left on its own, would be self-sufficient in power generation at a much lower cost. Currently, the cost of power in Northwestern Ontario is a barrier to economic and social development.

At a minimum, Hydro One should purchase the green and cheap Manitoba power to help with the power needs of the Ring of Fire, remote communities, First Nations and manufacturing.
A very progressive idea would be for Queen’s Park to allow Northwestern Ontario to join the Manitoba grid and pay Manitoba rates. This would have the added advantage that Northwestern Ontario would no longer have to pay for the mistakes of southern Ontario planning.

The load in relative terms is insignificant to southern Ontario but would be a huge boon for he Northwest. If such a plan were implemented the time zone change near Thunder Bay could be used so that everything in the Central Standard Time could be synchronized with Manitoba. Peak demand time would be different than southern Ontario.

There are also positive social and economic benefits by changing the peak loads of Northern Ontario so as to not coincide with the peak loads of the Eastern Standard Time.
The benefit for everyone involved is great. But perhaps the most telling reason my suggestions should be followed for Northwestern Ontario is that nobody at Queen’s Park will notice.

Steven Fletcher is the Conservative MP for Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley.