Coun. Iain Angus.
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THUNDER BAY -- Iain Angus is hopeful premier-designate Kathleen Wynne will place a looming Northwestern Ontario power crisis amongst the top items on her to-do list.
Angus, who co-chairs the Common Voice Energy Task Force, said to keep the issue of whether or not to mothball the Thunder Bay Generating System front-and-centre for the newly elected Liberal leader, the group intends to fire a letter off to Wynne.
They plan to ask MPPs Bill Mauro and Michael Gravelle, the minister of natural resources, to deliver the letter to Wynne on Tuesday morning.
Angus said he doesn’t want the conversion from coal to natural gas, halted by Energy Minister Chris Bentley at the advice of the Ontario Power Authority, to get lost in the shuffle, given the giant gap that exists between what the OPA say the region’s energy needs will be going forward and the reality the ETF believes will be required by 2020.
It’s too important an issue, he said.
“Substantively I don’t think (a new premier) changes the process,” Angus said Monday at a meeting of the city’s intergovernmental liaison committee.
“The reality though, is we’ll likely have a new minister of energy. And that’s both good news and not-so-good news, because Chris Bentley has been very engaged in the file and knows how complicated it is.
"A new minister will have to be brought up to speed, but certainly Bill Mauro and Michael Gravelle will be in a position to take advantage of the newness and make sure our views are top-of-mind, as opposed to those of the OPA.”
Bentley has already announced he won’t be seeking re-election in the next election, making him an unlikely candidate when Wynne rolls out her cabinet as expected next week.
There’s also a growing concern the delay could lead to rolling brownouts and blackouts in Thunder Bay and elsewhere across the region in 2015, especially with a large gap between the closure of the TBGS and the completion of an east-west tie line, which the OPA estimates promises will be able deliver enough energy to the region.
The Atikokan Generating Station would help fill any shortages.
Under a best-case scenario, the ETF estimates Northwester Ontarians will need 1,298 megawatts of power by 2016, a number that grows to 1,564 by the end of the decade.
SNC Lavalin has suggested the energy need will be even greater. The OPA, on the other hand, is predicting the region will need just 760 megawatts of power by 2016 and 850 megawatts by 2020.
Angus said a major sticking point with the OPA is they simply don’t believe a lot of the mines being discussed will ever open.
“We haven’t seen the whites of their eyes,” said Angus, relating OPA reaction upon being told about the mines.
Intergovernmental Liaison chairman Joe Virdiramo said it’s time the OPA and the province, which has final say over the future of the generating station, started listening to reality.
They’re becoming part of the problem, he said, noting mining and forestry companies don’t like energy questions left unresolved when contemplating where to invest.
“They need to know the power is here and the power is readily available. If they’re going to invest millions and millions of dollars, they may not consider investing if they think the power is going to come in three or four years, or the situation is going to be tenuous,” Virdiramo said.
He added Wynne isfully aware of the situation and he’s confident she’ll act quickly.
Like Virdiramon, Mayor Keith Hobbs said the region can’t afford the status quo.
“It’s of the utmost urgency, this issue,” he said.
“It’s very frustrating. The OPA’s numbers are diametrically opposed to ours, so far out of skew that it’s almost ridiculous. The minister has got to make a decision one way or another.”
No is not an answer, he added.
“It’s better to err on the side of caution because our numbers … show that we’re going to need the energy. So let’s get it done right now.”
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