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Watts Up
Lights will be out around the CN Tower unless Toronto gets more power


BY STUART SERVICE


mark guilherme

A trio of women in their seventies sing homemade anti-nuclear energy hymns. They chant: “So you want world war three, but you don’t have nuclear technology,” while sporting sweaters and hats covered in buttons with environmental slogans looking like leftovers from a ‘60s anti-nuclear demonstration. But these are 2006 activists hanging around outside Toronto’s Crowne Plaza auditorium where the Ontario power Authority (OPA) is listening to the public’s concerns about the province’s potential energy shortage.

The OPA public consultation begins with a video outlining the positives of nuclear power and the unreliability of renewable energy sources.  “Currently, about half our electricity comes from nuclear generation,” says the narrator of the OPA film over a hypnotic synthesized beat that could double as a porno soundtrack. “The advantage of nuclear is once the plant has been built, the cost of operating it is low.”

The crowd laughs.

More than 200 people in the auditorium heckle the OPA moderator each time she tries to control the discussion.

The consultation is “a tragic joke” says John Wilson, an energy consultant and former director of Hydro One, into one of the two microphones. He wants to know the provincial government’s opinion on free trade and its effects on future energy decisions.

Three representatives from the OPA answer Wilson’s question by sitting in stoic silence in the corner of the hall.

The environmental consequences of how we create electricity can generate passion from all sorts of players. A three-way battle to keep the lights on cleanly, effectively and in the most cost-efficient manner is being fought out on Toronto’s waterfront between opposing proposals for natural gas-fired electrical generation.

The Ontario government has directed the OPA to get to work on a proposal by the Portlands Energy Centre (PEC) – a consortium of Ontario Power Generation and TransCanada Corp. – to build a $700 million gas-fired generating station on Toronto’s waterfront. The plant would provide 550 megawatts (MW) to the city. One megawatt is enough electricity to keep the lights on in about 300 homes. This gas-fired plant would be built beside the Richard L. Hearn generating station that has been closed since 1983.

“I'm not enamoured of building an enormous power plant on the port lands,” Toronto Mayor David Miller told Planet Oz. “I don't agree with it and I think it’s incredibly half-baked thinking,” he says.“The federal government, the province and the City agreed (in 2001) to revitalize the waterfront,” he continues.  “They agreed to de-industrialize [the waterfront, so] why would you build a power plant next door to an old one? It seems astonishingly thick to do that.” 

A counter proposal by Toronto Hydro and Baltimore’s Constellation Energy Group is to retrofit the derelict Hearn plant. Blair Peberdy, Toronto Hydro vice-president of communications, says the Hydro-Constellation plan would produce 290 MW in generation with an additional 200 MW coming from energy conservation. “If there was a need for more (electricity) we would build it in 100 MW increments all within the Hearn plant,” Peberdy says. “In our opinion [it’s] a better idea.”

This battle for power follows a December report by the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) that projected rolling blackouts unless 250 MW of electricity is generated within the city by the summer of 2008. The IESO keeps track of Ontario’s power use. This includes hourly updates on its website of Ontario’s entire generating capability at peak demand, as well as the province’s demand and the day’s projected electricity peak.

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