Power room

Simcoe Reformer: Barbara Simpson - November 21, 2008

Both Haldimand and Norfolk residents turned out in droves last night to discuss the "two elephants" in the regional room -- coal and nuclear energies.

With Bruce Power in the planning stages of developing a Nanticoke nuclear power plant, the Jarvis Lions Community Centre was set to be a hot stage for this year's energy symposium. But while Bruce Power was on hand to answer questions, the company kept a low profile throughout the evening, choosing not to participate in the presentation segment of the symposium.

Instead David Shier, president of the Canadian Nuclear Workers Association, took to the floor to ease residents' minds about nuclear energy.

"From the viewpoint of the nuclear workers, nuclear power plants are safe," he said, adding that nuclear plant workers also have a personal interest in protecting their communities.

He also attempted to put the contentious issue of nuclear waste to rest, explaining that the highly radioactive bundles of spent fuel 'cool' in pools of water for a number of years.

But Shier's explanation wasn't enough for some audience members.

"What do you do with all the thousands of radioactive water?" a woman shouted out.

Shier compared the cooling system to a radiator -- a "closed loop" where the water is continually recirculated.

"But how many gallons of water do you take out of the water?" another woman yelled out. "We need numbers!"

While nuclear energy faced some tough critics, residents were more open to discussing the long-standing coal energy and the more innovative alternatives.

Kim McLennan, a public affairs officer with Ontario Power Generation, was on hand to share the company's successful biomass testing results before the evening's presentations began. Several bottles filled with the "biomass" -- wheat shorts, grain screenings and wood pellets -- were set out on her display table.

Both wheat shorts and wood pellets have had test runs as part of the coal-fuel mix at the current Nanticoke generating station. One of the benefits of biomass fuels is that it is "carbon-neutral," meaning the amount of carbon released during combustion is equal to the amount absorbed by the plant while it was growing.

The fuels are also "dispatchable," she explained, meaning that their generation, like fossil fuels, can fluctuate depending on the demand.

While the biomass testing has been successful, this energy will be significantly more expensive than coal, perhaps even comparable to the price of natural gas, admitted plant manager Chris Young during his presentation.

Several companies, including Competitive Power Ventures and Diverse Green Solutions, discussed their alternative energy projects, including both solar and wind farms in the southwestern Ontario region.

But Stephana Johnston, a former federal Green Party candidate and part of the Grand Erie Energy Quest, reminded the audience the energy discussion shouldn't end after this year's symposium is over. In fact, they should tell at least 10 people about what they had learned last night.

"We need to have a look at what we hadn't been told," she explained to the packed audience.

MPP Toby Barrett estimated that 250 people attended last year's symposium put on by him. He explained that more residents had likely turned out to this second symposium because of the "two elephants in the room." But while the discussion could have turned ugly, Barrett was impressed that audience members respected each other's opinions and came prepared with questions.

"Sometimes you can have a good old-fashioned town hall and it works out well," he said.

He described the area as "independently-minded" with farmers and small business owners filled with fresh ideas.

"I certainly learned a lot this evening," he quipped.

Article ID# 1307877

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