Hydro prices take flight

Dana Flavelle
Toronto Star
October 3, 2003

Electricity prices in Ontario skyrocketed briefly after a major generator, possibly another nuclear unit, was unexpectedly shut down yesterday morning.

The shutdown, coming on top of ongoing problems at Ontario’s Pickering and Bruce nuclear power plants, raises concerns about how prepared the province is to meet peak demand in the winter months.

The wholesale price of electricity soared to just under $300 a megawatt-hour, seven times the government regulated retail price of $43 a megawatt-hour, by 10 a.m. yesterday, the Independent Electricity Market Operator (IMO) said on its Web site.

IMO spokesperson Terry Young said the price spike was the biggest he could recall seeing in recent weeks. The price quickly eased yesterday after the IMO secured alternate supply, Young added.

The increase affects only large electricity users, since residential and small-business rates are frozen at 4.3 cents a kilowatt-hour.

The wholesale price, which reflects how well supply is meeting demand, began skyrocketing after a major generating station shut down at 9:21 a.m., according to reports on the IMO Web site.

The identity of the troubled station would not be released until 4 p.m. today when the IMO issues its day-old 24-hour status report.

However, the size of the power loss – 850 megawatts in total – suggests it had to be one of the nuclear units at Bruce or Darlington power stations, said Tom Adams, executive director of advocacy group Energy Probe.

Ontario Power Generation declined to say whether the generator involved in yesterday’s shutdown belongs to its network, which supplies up to 70 per cent of the province’s power. OPG owns Darlington.

For competitive reasons, the company is required to release that data only to the IMO, which can’t make it public for 24 hours, OPG spokesperson John Earl explained.

A spokesperson for Bruce Power Inc., which owns the Bruce nuclear plant, could not be reached for comment.

The IMO would say only that the station, considered one of the bigger ones, is capable of generating at least 250 megawatts of electricity, which is sufficient to power at least 200,000 homes. (The largest unit in the province generates 900 megawatt-hours,)

Earlier problems on several transmission lines, most notably one that brings in electricity from Manitoba, contributed to the shortfall, Young said. Adams, however, discounted their importance, saying that transmission lines have problems all the time.

Altogether, Ontario had more than 10,000 megawatts of power unavailable to it yesterday morning between planned outages for maintenance and unexpected ones, Adams said.

“That’s an incredible amount,” he said, noting that Ontario’s total capacity is about 27,000 megawatts if everything is up and running. The province also imports power as needed.

Demand in Ontario yesterday hovered between 17,500 megawatts and 18,500 megawatts per hour, well below peak levels reached at the height of August’s heat wave, when a problem at an Ohio power station tripped the lights across much of the northeastern United States and Ontario.

Yesterday’s shutdown comes on the heels of Saturday’s closing of two nuclear reactors at Pickering and continuing re-start problems at two Bruce nuclear units.

Both the Pickering and Bruce units were still off line as of Tuesday, according to the IMO 24-hour update released at 4 p.m. yesterday.

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