Our Windsor.ca
August 26, 2014
John Spears

Ontario talks hydro trade with Quebec and Manitoba

Ontario’s energy minister Bob Chiarelli has talked to Quebec and Manitoba about increased hydro power imports

Ontario’s energy minister says he has held direct talks with his counterparts from Quebec and Manitoba about importing more electricity into Ontario.

But Bob Chiarelli cautioned that making deals is “not a slam dunk in any way.”

Chiarelli made the comments at the annual meeting of federal and provincial energy and mines ministers, which wrapped up Tuesday in Sudbury.

He said the one-on-one meetings with Quebec and Manitoba officials during the federal-provincial conference were useful.

“We discussed specifically and in detail the opportunities and the challenges that exist for us to have more energy contracts to supply Ontario,” he said at a news conference following the meeting.

Ontario is mulling huge new investments in nuclear power, and has established programs for renewable power developments.

But Premier Kathleen Wynne has spoken publicly about buying more electricity from Quebec as well.

The Ontario Clean Air Alliance has been arguing that importing hydro power from Quebec in large volumes is the least expensive and cleanest option for Ontario to boost its power supply.

Chiarelli cautioned that increasing power imports is a “difficult issue” both technically and economically.

Quebec currently exports most of its surplus power to the U.S. Chiarelli said that the price Quebec receives for those exports is higher than the spot price on Ontario’s electricity market.

“So there has to be some real hard work done on the part of Quebec to get their export price to be competitive with what we already have in Ontario,” he said.

(In fact, most electricity in Ontario trades outside the spot market – frequently at prices higher-than-market prices. Most of the output from Ontario Power Generation is sold at regulated prices; privately operated Bruce Power’s energy is contracted at prices higher than the market average; the same is true for private gas-powered plants and renewable energy projects.)

There are technical issues as well, he said.

The power transmission lines between Ontario and Quebec have limited capacity’ and new lines would be needed to carry large amounts of power.

“The cost of that new transmission would have to be taken into account in the price,” he said.

On the other hand, there are some natural advantages, he noted. Ontario’s power demand peaks in the summer, when Quebec has surplus capacity.

Chiarelli said working groups will be established with both Quebec and Manitoba “almost immediately” to explore the possibility of increased trade.

He would say only that he hopes to see results in the “foreseeable future.”

The ministers also discussed how to get the federal government to help fund roads and power lines needed to develop mineral finds in the Ring of Fire area in northwestern Ontario.