Mark Winfield is an associate professor of environmental studies at York University, and co-chair of the University’s Sustainable Energy Initiative.
Ontario’s Liberal government stands to waste a lot more money if it doesn’t change its approach to energy policy, writes Mark Winfield.
The unfolding saga of the Liberal government’s decision to cancel, at an apparent cost approaching $600 million, two natural gas-fired power plants in Mississauga and Oakville is opening a series of questions about the province’s approach to planning and managing its electricity system.
The government of McGuinty’s successor, Kathleen Wynne says that it wants to make sure something like the gas-plant fiasco doesn’t happen again. At the same time it seems lost in terms of what to actually do, beyond requiring the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) to engage in more effective public consultation before siting decisions about power generation facilities are made.
The gas plant situation reflects much deeper problems than arguably poor facility siting decisions. Rather, the situation represents the culmination of an increasingly explicit politicization of decision-making about the province’s electricity system over the past decade.
Ironically, when Dalton McGuinty arrived in office in 2003 his new government immediately set about trying to reintroduce some measure of structure and planning into Ontario’s electricity system in aftermath of the Harris government’s failed attempt to pursue a purely market-based model. The Ontario Power Authority was established in 2004 specifically to develop a long-term Integrated Power System Plan for the province, which was to be subject to a limited review and then approval by the Ontario Energy Board.
The OPA would ultimately develop two such plans. However, only one ever even reached the Energy Board for review, and that review was curtailed almost as soon as it began. The OPA’s abortive plans, of which the Oakville and Mississauga plants were part, were overtaken by a host of new developments: major declines in the province’s electricity needs; the government’s commitment to the rapid deployment of renewable energy through the Green Energy and Green Economy Act; and the recognition of massive underestimations of the costs and time frames for building and refurbishing nuclear power plants.
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