Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
Thunder Bay is prepared to go political in its ongoing effort to keep the Thunder Bay Generating Station open. The Ontario government late last year put a hold on converting the power plant from coal to natural gas, after the Ontario Power Authority said the region’s power needs could be met in other and cheaper ways.
The city has maintained that converting the plant is the only way to provide enough reliable power for the region, especially considering what many say is a looming mining industry boom.
The timeline is tight, too. The province has said all coal-fired power generation in Ontario must end by the end of 2014.
And while Coun. Iain Angus of the city’s energy task force said the city is making headway in its fight, asking Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli to simply order the station be converted is not out of the question.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to reach an agreement,” Angus said Monday at city hall.
“But if not, we have the option of going back to the minister of energy to say to him, ‘look, we’ve done our best to reach an agreement. It’s not possible. They’re still sticking with their scenario, which we don’t think will work, and we want you, minister, and your cabinet to issue a directive that the Thunder Bay (generating station) shall remain in operation, and the conversion to natural gas will begin.’”
The OPA has said an expansion to the east-west tieline — which moves power between Northern and southern Ontario — will meet most of the region’s power needs. Any extra power required can be bought from Manitoba, the OPA has said.
The city disagrees.
Angus said all of Manitoba’s surplus power has been spoken for — Minnesota and Wisconsin have signed deals that will see any extra Manitoba power shipped to them until at least the mid-2020s.
Angus said he believes Chiarelli is open to ordering the plant’s conversion.
“Certainly, the conversations we’ve had with him . . . all point in that direction,” Angus said.
As to why Chiarelli doesn’t simply issue the directive now, Angus said he’s likely playing it safe.
“He’s got to be seen to be going through due process,” Angus said. “He’s a new minister.
“He needs to be comfortable in the decision that he will recommend to his cabinet colleagues, because it’s not something he can arbitrarily do on his own behalf; he’s gotta convince cabinet to go along with it.”
The city is still going to try to work with the OPA. Dates for meetings in mid-April to discuss the plant are to be finalized today.
Angus said if need be, the city will approach Chiarelli again, in June.
Conversion of the Thunder Bay plant, even if started today, cannot be completed to meet the province’s coal deadline, Angus noted. It’s unlikely that the province would be willing to grandfather the Thunder Bay plant and let it burn coal past the deadline, he said.
“We’ve gotta look at other solutions to fill in that gap,” he said. “We know we’re going to be short power.
“It may be some bending of the rules for the existing east-west tie to enhance the capacity there, it may be some short-term imports. It may be some other tweaking we can do, or maybe we can bring in some short-term portable gas generators.”