Orillia Packet
August 18, 2017
Jack Gibbons

What is Brown thinking?

Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown says it is not in Ontario’s interest to make a power import deal with Quebec. But the PC leader doesn’t have his facts straight. Let’s look at his claims.

Quebec power costs too much: Brown says paying Quebec six cents per kilowatt hour is too much. He seems unaware the fuel and operating costs alone of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station amount to nine cents/kWh and that Ontario Power Generation is asking the Ontario Energy Board to increase the rate it is paid for nuclear power to 16.5 cents by 2025 to pay for rebuilding Darlington’s aging reactors.

Even with the proposed 2% annual cost escalator in the Quebec contract, Quebec water power will remain an excellent deal compared to nuclear over 20 years. Every nuclear project in Ontario’s history has gone massively over budget. When the final bills are in for the Darlington rebuild project, Quebec power at these rates will look incredibly attractive.

We have too much surplus power: Again, Brown seems unaware we can eliminate our power surplus by closing the Pickering nuclear station when its licence expires in 2018. Given that Pickering is the fourth-oldest nuclear plant in North America, has the highest operating costs of any nuclear plant on the continent, and is surrounded by more than two million people, replacing the power Pickering produces that is actually used in Ontario (roughly 50%) with lower-cost Quebec power as quickly as possible simply makes sense.

It will cost Ontario jobs: Yes, nuclear plants have many employees, many of whom are on the province’s Sunshine List of public employees making more than $100,000 per year. The best transition for these workers in an increasingly obsolete industry (no CANDU reactors sold anywhere in 40 years) is to develop expertise in nuclear decommissioning by immediately starting to decommission the Pickering nuclear plant in 2018 and thereby return a large part of the Lake Ontario waterfront to the people of Pickering. Decommissioning is currently the only sector of the nuclear industry that is actually growing.

There are hidden costs: Ontario has significant capacity for importing power from Quebec — we could import about as much power from Quebec as Pickering produces using our current infrastructure. The Independent Electricity System Operator says it will cost only $220 million for system upgrades to ensure we can use Quebec power in every hour of the year. That’s a small incremental cost on a nearly $10-billion deal.

It is high risk: With nuclear projects in Ontario running 2.5 times over budget on average, the real risk is massive nuclear project cost overruns. Just last week, two U.S. utilities walked away from a South Carolina nuclear project after investing billions of dollars but seeing no end to massive cost overruns in sight. Clean, safe and reliable Quebec water power can easily replace so-called “base-load” plants such as Pickering, which is forecast to be offline for repairs 30% of the time during the next five years.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has made the right choice in reaching out to the Quebec. Our neighbour has the lowest power prices in North America thanks to its wealth of water power, which will soon be augmented by its rapidly growing supply of low-cost wind power.

Turning our back on Quebec’s offer of power at a fraction of the cost of electricity from rebuilt nuclear reactors would be equivalent to shooting ourselves in the foot because the bullets were made in Ontario. The only reason to say no to Quebec is to keep a dying nuclear industry on life support for a few more years. Indeed, if Brown thinks nuclear power is cleaner, safer, more reliable and lower cost than Quebec water power, we have subway-to-Kingston project he might be interested in.

Jack Gibbons is chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.