Liberals hazy on coal-fired plants

The London Free Press: CHRISTINA BLIZZARD - September 14, 2007


The two massive smokestacks of the plant stand out against the shore of Lake Erie like two giant fingers making obscene gestures to the horizon.

They're rude reminders of the Liberals' pledge in the last election to shut down Ontario's five coal-fired electricity plants by this year.

It was a foolish promise, but trendy at the time. Back then, they weren't going to be closed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb global warming. No, in 2003 they were bad because they made people sick.

When Dalton McGuinty figured out it would be lights out for Ontario if they shut down those plants, he pushed back the shutdown date - twice.

First he said 2009.

Now it's pegged at 2014.

Sure, who doesn't want clean air? The fact is, though, Nanticoke is one of Ontario's biggest polluters because it is the largest coal-fired plant.

The plant's eight generating units produce 500 megawatts of power each. They're used at peak times in summer and winter when demand is high.

Conservative Leader John Tory said yesterday he wouldn't risk damaging the economy by closing the plants too soon.

"I have been very clear in saying that not one megawatt of generating capacity of any kind will be closed down until we have the measures in place to replace that power," he said.

He pledged to install scrubbers on the units at a cost of about $1.3 million.

The coal-fired Lambton plant, near Sarnia, already has scrubbers on two units and they're among the continent's cleanest-burning units, removing 90 per cent of sulphur dioxide from emissions.

Yet McGuinty plans to also shut down Lambton, with residents there in an uproar since the plant is a big employer. Same for the Atikokan plant near Thunder Bay. It employs 100 in a town hurting for jobs.

The old Lakeview plant in Mississauga was closed in 2005. While the Liberals are fond of taking credit for that, it was a Conservative minister who signed that order in 2001.

How the Liberals have massaged the reason to close the plants, from 2003 to now, is a bit like their about-face on faith-based schools.

In 2003, they didn't support religious school funding because they didn't think we could afford it. Now they don't support it because they think it will destroy Ontario's social fabric. All of which makes you wonder if there isn't more politics than principle behind both those issues.

"I will not sacrifice secure energy supply in this province for the sake of a deadline that Mr. McGuinty set for political purposes," Tory said.

In response to the PC platform, the Liberals put out a news release that compared carbon sequestration - which Tory didn't even mention at his news conference - to "turning Lake Erie into Canada Dry," and slammed scrubbers.

Talk about fizzy logic.

"Why would anyone want to spend time or taxpayer money on Dickens-era technology? Coal is dirty, it always will be, and that's why McGuinty Liberals are dedicated to getting rid of it," Energy Minister Dwight Duncan says in the release.

Well, subways are a Dickens-era invention. And the province is building a new one to Vaughan, north of Toronto.

McGuinty made a huge mistake in the last election by promising to close the plants. He knew he couldn't do it, yet he brazenly ignored critics who told him so. Then again, he said he wouldn't raise taxes, either.