Ontario power supplies up 7 per cent since blackout

CBC News
August 9, 2004

Toronto: Almost a year after a massive blackout hit Ontario, the province’s electricity supply has seven per cent more capacity, which may make it better able to weather a similar blow.

Critics say changes the Liberal government has made don’t address the long-standing weaknesses in the province’s power grid, however.

The extra seven per cent of power capacity comes from the reactivation of three nuclear reactors that had been shut down for years, as well as a new gas-fired generating plant.

That may give Ontario a buffer large enough to avoid a repeat of the chaos that followed the blackout on Aug. 14, 2003.

It took almost a week to restore full power to millions of residents and thousands of businesses in the southern part of the province after a power plant in Ohio shut down unexpectedly, triggering a series of problems all along the transmission grid in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada.

Even before the blackout, Ontario had barely enough capacity to handle its peak demands on hot summer weekdays when air conditioners were running at full tilt and industry required its normal huge supply of electricity.

David Butters, a spokesperson for Ontario’s power generators, welcomes efforts by Ontario’s new Liberal government to stabilize the electricity market.

He said policy flip-flops by the former Conservative government kept the private sector on the sidelines, and that’s changing under Premier Dalton McGuinty’s watch.

"There’s still, I would call it, guarded optimism… They’ve made some moves."

Those moves include:

Increases in the price of electricity, a move designed to reduce consumption.

  • The decision to set up two new energy agencies.

     

  • The tendering of contracts for 2,800 megawatts of new power.

     

  • The decision to spend almost a billion dollars to re-start another nuclear reactor at Pickering, outside of Toronto.

    Provincial NDP Leader Howard Hampton calls these moves little more than public relations exercises.

    "None of it amounts to a plan and none of it really provides Ontario with either the electricity reliability or the electricity affordability that the province needs."

    Hampton pointed out that the government has promised to phase out all coal-fired plants by 2007. They produce about 25 per cent of Ontario’s power, and the Liberals have not yet said how they intend to replace those sources of energy.

    Norm Rubin, of the research group Energy Probe, warns that the absence of trouble this year could be misleading.

    For one thing, fewer people have been using air conditioners because temperatures have been lower than normal.

    "Saying that things are so far, so good, may in hindsight look like the story about the guy who jumped off the tall building and said, ‘So far, so good,’ as he passed the third floor."

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