Ontario Power Generation's Thunder Bay hydro plant is presently fired by coal and was scheduled for conversion to natural gas.
Energy Minister Chris Bentley says the plan to suspend the conversion of Thunder Bay's coal-fired generating station is a temporary pause.
Bentley on Thursday said the Ontario Power Authority has told him they are looking at other ways to provide the region's power needs and think they can do it and save hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.
Bentley said he wants proof before cancelling the conversion project altogether.
"The conversion is being paused," said Bentley in an unsolicited phone call to TB Newswatch. "The issue is whether providing power to Thunder Bay and the Northwest, the power that's needed today and into the future, can be done at a saving of $400 million.
"The planning authority is investigating that. My position is show me. We determined that Thunder Bay and the Northwest gets the power it needs from now into the future. If they can save up to $400 million, it's something I'm very interested in. If there no other ways to accomplish the power, than the conversion will be very much alive."
In a release issued Thursday afternoon by OPG, the power producer confirmed Bentley's remarks.
"The Ontario Power Authority, the province's supply planning arm, has informed OPG it needs time to explore other options for electricity supply in the Northwest part of the province. When the OPA is rady to proceed, OPG will provide its best option for consideration at the time," the unsigned release states.
"We want to thank all those who worked on the detailed planning, and community members who provided support and encouragement for the project. OUr work to date reflected the direction of the long-term energy plan and the government directive to the OPA."
The release goes on to say the OPG is considering to explore re-powering options at the Thunder Bay generating station and its other coal-fired plant. The energy producer has already begun the conversion of its Atikokant plant from coal to biomass, a power-purchase deal the OPA approved earlier this year.
In previous interviews OPG officials have stated if the conversion plan was not approved, the plant would have to be shuttered, making it unlikely to operate again in the future. There's no immediate word on what the development means for the future of the Thunder Bay facility, though the OPG release did say the suspension of the conversion will not impact current operations.
Asked about potential power need increases as the Ring of Fire and other mining interests develop in the region, possibly bringing processing plants or other high-energy industry to the city, Bentley said the power will be there.
"I think the No. 1 priority is there will be enough power. The east-west tie, which will improve power flow from the north down south and from the south up north, will be completed in the future. The question is getting from here to there. As I said, the prority for me is the Northwest gets the power it needs, and not just for today's needs, but for its economic development opportunities in the future. The planning authority, the Ontario Power Authority, is essentially saying that they believe it can be done for a very significant savings."
When asked about the impact on employees, Bentley said the province has been planning to get out of coal all along, meaning the plant was slated for closure. The conversion plan, however, changed that in 2010, after the province reinstated the plan to switch to natural gas, following the initial cancellation of the plan in 2006. Now its future is up in the air.
David Sword, the Union Gas’s district manager for Northwestern Ontario said the energy company was disappointed to learn on Wednesday that Ontario Power Generation was cancelling a planned pipeline to the utility, effectively ending the conversion process.
“It was not expected,” Sword said in a brief phone interview with CKPR Radio. “We were committed to going forward with the project.”
The province had ordered all of Ontario’s power generating stations to wean themselves off coal by 2014, a floating date that's been extended several times from the original 2007 deadline.
Sword said it’s not news Union Gas officials were hoping to hear.
“We think it’s a missed opportunity to convert the plant,” he said.
Union Gas had done preliminary work on the 30-kilometre pipeline and Sword told Thunder Bay Television the company will be seeking compensation from OPG for cancelling the project. He estimated the compensation ask will be in the $5-million range.
This is the second time the project has been halted. It was cancelled by the province in 2006, but the plan was resurrected in 2010.
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