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Monday, March 24, 2008

Ontario's best laid electricity plan

Ontario's New Nukes: A very political power play is a very interesting article by Andy Frame that appeared in Saturday's Toronto Star about Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL) and the Ontario government's announcement that it intends to build 3,500 MW of new nuclear power by 2018.

One thing the announcement made abundantly clear was that the Ontario government has taken complete control of electric power planning: It makes the key decisions and then tells operators – Ontario Power Generation (OPG) or Bruce Power – where a plant will be built and what to buy.

For previous projects – Pickering, Bruce and Darlington – Ontario Hydro made the decisions based on system requirements, technology and operational considerations. But with the government taking over decision-making, the process becomes more complicated and more political – what should be a power plan becomes a political plan.
Frame provides some insightful information too about the timing and the numbers:
The Ontario government has made a firm commitment to shut down all the province's coal-powered generating plants by 2014. New nuclear plants will take four years for decisions, design and approvals, plus another six to build. That means completion in 2018 – if the schedule holds up. Time is short.
So even if the construction schedule holds up, which it likely won't, there appears to be a 4 year period of impending electricity shortages from the time of the coal plant closures in 2014 until the new nukes start coming on line in 2018.

Even at that, there's only 3,500 MW of new nukes planned, not enough to replace the current 6,800 MW of coal power. McGuinty's electricity plan has a lot of holes in it. He doesn't have enough new gas, wind or nuclear power combined to replace coal and meet Ontario's growing demand. It's unlikely that the shortfall can be made up with imports from Quebec, Manitoba, Michigan or New York.

One of two things will have to happen, maybe both:
  • The coal closures will have to be re-re-scheduled to 2018 or later (remember McGuinty originally promised to close all of Ontario's coal plants by 2007)
  • the demand for electricity in Ontario will need to decrease significantly, something it has rarely done.
But then again, when any commodity, electricity included, is in short supply it's price tends to rise which will curb demand somewhat. High electricity prices will also put a big damper on Ontario's manufacturing based economy.

Just how high that price will go is anyone's guess, but we all better get ready for it because it looks like a sure thing.

Update: Ontario's economy run by monkeys

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