Another reprieve for NGS?

Simcoe Reformer: Monte Sonnenberg, - July 3, 2009

The McGuinty government's attempt to renew the province's stock of nuclear reactors has come off the rails.

The situation has some wondering whether the Nanticoke Generating Station, as a coal-fired facility, is in line for another reprieve.

Three years of preparation for a $20 billion rebuild of two reactors at the Darlington station came to nothing this week when energy minister George Smitherman announced that none of the bids submitted were acceptable.

The only bid to meet specifications came from Atomic Energy Canada Ltd., a federal crown corporation. However, Smitherman said the AECL bid was "many billions" of dollars higher than the province is willing to pay.

With the help of the federal government, Smitherman wants to bargain down the price. But he and everyone else is racing against the clock because the Darlington reactors need to be replaced by 2018. If the province misses the deadline, Ontario could have difficulty meeting its goal of supplying 50 per cent of the province's electrical needs from nuclear installations. Can Nanticoke be shut down in the absence of new reactors?

"I would say a solid 'no,'" says Paul Serruys of Simcoe, an employee at the Nanticoke station and a past steward of the Ontario Power Workers Union.

The Nanticoke station has been key to Ontario's energy security since the 1970s. At peak capacity, it can supply up to 20 per cent of the province's electrical needs. Along the way however, the plant has established itself as one of North America's largest producers of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases associated with climate change.

When the McGuinty government came to power in 2004, plans were to mothball NGS by 2007. This was later revised to 2009, and then 2014. The latest documents suggest a closure date of 2015.

If Ontario's nuclear woes give rise to another reprieve, both Serruys and MPP John Yakabuski, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives' energy critic, doubt Ontarians will hear about it till after the next provincial election, which will be held in 2011.

"Their credibility on this issue has been so badly stepped and walked on that they wouldn't want to put themselves in a position where they'd have to make another announcement on this before the next election," Yakabuski said yesterday. "We're in a situation where the clock is ticking and this government is in a position where it wants to put on a blindfold and hope the problem goes away. It makes me wonder if they have a handle on the nuclear situation at all."

For his part, local MPP Toby Barrett is optimistic that the Nanticoke station will be converted to cleaner-burning biomass fuels. There is a great opportunity here, Barrett said, for local farmers and the forest industry up north.

Barrett is worried, however, that the McGuinty government's difficulties on the energy front will make it difficult for Ontario to rebound from this recession.

"We're going to have a tough time making a case for business to come back to Ontario if we can't guarantee the electricity they need to succeed," he said. "That has always been key to Ontario's success -- economically-priced electricity. If we have this kind of uncertainty in our electrical market, that means uncertainty for industry, and they can go elsewhere. This is quite a pickle. This is a very bad situation for the Ontario government and the people of Ontario."

John Peevers, a spokesman for Bruce Power in Tiverton, would not comment on whether the McGuinty government's problems with the nuclear file might advance the utility's plan to build two reactors in the Nanticoke Industrial Park.

"What the government does or doesn't do is beyond our control," he said.

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Article ID# 1640155

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