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Tory's scrubber plan finds local support

Sarnia Observer: JACK POIRIER - Friday, September 14, 2007

Two vocal opponents to the closure of Lambton Generating Station are hailing a Conservative plan to outfit Ontario's coal-fired plants with scrubber technology.

On Thursday, Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said if elected, a Conservative government would still aim to close Ontario's coal-fired plants by 2014, but not before investing up to $1.3 billion to install scrubbers on the pollution- spewing smokestacks.

"I think that's great news," said Sarnia Construction Association's Ray Curran.

Between 1992 and 1996, scrubbers, properly called flue gas desulphurization units, were installed on two of LGS's four units at a cost of about $540 million.

Curran said the investment created about 1,000 construction jobs at its peak, and about 500 workers were needed on the site year-round during the project's completion.

"It would be good for all of us in the valley," Curran said.

While the Conservatives won't immediately change the legislation requiring coal- fired plants to close by 2014, Tory said he won't close the plants until Ontario has better, stable alternatives.

Until then, he said he can't sit idly by while 1,900 Ontario residents die prematurely in part because of air pollution.

"(Premier) Dalton McGuinty has stood by over the last four years while people got sick and some, in fact, by his own admission lost their lives," Tory said during a campaign stop in Nanticoke, Ont., home of Ontario's largest coal- fired plant and Canada's fifth-largest air polluter.

A Conservative government would also build more nuclear power, as well as wind, solar and geothermal power to reduce the reliance on coal, he said.

The Liberals initially promised to close Ontario's coal plants by 2007. They since pushed the date back several times before writing the 2014 closure into regulation this summer.

The Liberals likened Tory's scrubber plan to putting "a filter on a cigarette." Scrubbers do nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and would give the Conservatives an excuse to keep the "Dickens-era" plants open indefinitely, the party said in a release.

The party, quoting figures released by the Ontario Power Authority, said scrubbers will only reduce pollutants like sulphur dioxide by 34 per cent, nitrogen oxide by 23 per cent and mercury by 24 per cent.

The effect scrubber technology has on major greenhouse gases linked to climate change, such as carbon dioxide, is widely disputed.

However, Carol Chudy, co-chair of the Clean Affordable Energy Alliance, said even the Liberals concede that coal power has to remain a part of the energy mix until replacement power is online. Until then, it makes sense to make the coal-fired plants cleaner-burning, Chudy said.

"It's worth the investment," she said. "We need those units."