Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Gas (plant) pains

Flooded Highway 427
By now the story of the big rainstorm that caused flooding and power outages in the western part of Toronto, earlier this summer (July 8, 2013) is old news. Certainly the severity of the storm was unusual, and with that much rain, flooding was to be expected. But most of the flooding was cleared by the following morning leaving behind considerable damage to property.

What was unexpected was that electrical power remained offline to thousands of homes and businesses for nearly two days which added (unnecessarily) to the destruction of property in freezers and refrigerators across the region. The Mayor of Toronto even appealed to citizens to conserve electricity because the city was “hanging by a thread.” Was this a surprise to authorities, an unnoticed flaw in the system? Who is in charge?

The Ontario Power Authority (OPA) is in charge of Ontario’s electricity infrastructure, and the disruption in service after the recent flood was foreseen years ago.

A report issued in October 2007, recommended “the siting of new gas generation in the southwest part of the Greater Toronto Area (Southwest GTA)” and that OPA intended to “procure such generation by 2013…to address capacity needs…expected by 2015 in the western half of the GTA.” Of course the proposed Oakville and Mississauga gas power plants that were supposed to mitigate the problem were canceled for political reasons.

The same report foreshadowed the recent power failure: “Extraordinary events or major failures on the transmission system could lead to inadequate supply capacity or voltage stability issues. The risk of such events is significantly reduced with internal generation capacity. As an example, New York City requires an installed generation capacity that is 80% of the city load.” How does Toronto, the financial capital of Canada, compare? Only about 10% of its electricity is generated locally. The city is on tenterhooks.

The best available guess is that the cancellation of the two aforementioned gas power plants cost about $600 million. The recent economic ($850 million) and societal losses during the power failure should to be added to that estimate. Indeed, the cancellation of those plants was not the decision of experts, and not done in the interests of the people of the Southwest GTA. It was a calculated decision designed to save two political seats weighed against the best interests of hundreds of thousands of hard working citizens.

In a recent committee hearing on the gas plant debacle, Dalton McGuinty reiterated his position that the power plant cancellation was “the right thing to do.” Yes, it was for the Liberal Party, but what about the ratepayers and citizens of western Toronto, and the rest of the province?

This is the Libertarian platform plank on electrical energy generation.

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