The region’s energy advocates are demanding the Thunder Bay Generating Station be converted to natural gas by the end of 2016.
And if Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli doesn’t heed the call, Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association past-president Ron Nelson promised to make it an election issue.
Nelson was reacting to a letter to the editor Chiarelli penned earlier this month that stated the energy task force’s call for 75,000 tonnes of biomass on hand at all times is unreasonably high and would cost ratepayers significantly.
In his letter, Chiarelli went on to say that “no generation facility in the world plans for the incredible volume of surplus fuel being proposed by the (Energy Task Force).
The province has promised to supply 15,000 tonnes of biomass pellets a year for five years, until other sources of electricity are in place.
Nelson, also the mayor of O’Connor Township, said the frustration level is starting to grow. The generating station produced 34,128 megawatts in January alone, which using biomass would equate to burning 16,960 tonnes of pellets. The latest figures show the plant would have burned 21,862 tonnes of advanced biomass to date in 2014.
Should the weather replicate itself down the road, the city would have been faced with rolling blackouts while facing record temperature lows.
“Which company has to go down in order to preserve that power, or do we have rolling blackouts throughout the city in the middle of January when it is quite substantially cold?” Nelson said. “So there are repercussions just here in the City of Thunder Bay that will impact dramatically.”
The problem will only get worse if new mines come on stream by decade’s end.
Mayor Keith Hobbs said the province’s answer just doesn’t cut it.
“Had we been using biomass, our supply would be gone by now. Since Jan. 7 the plant has been running full out and it’s just unacceptable. We can’t have our people freezing cold in these winters. And these winters could be the norm with climate change,” Hobbs said.
There’s also a financial impact to consider, said Coun. Brian McKinnon, a member of the energy task force.
The plant supplies about 110 jobs and pays the city $1 million in taxes annually. Another 100 or more indirect jobs come as a result of the TBGS, with the utility spending between $5 million and $6 million each year in the community for supplies and services. The payroll alone is $10 million.
“A lot of it is spent directly in Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario,” McKinnon said.
“Any decision on the future of this plant must take this into consideration.”
Mayor Keith Hobbs said three successive energy ministers have failed the city trying to deal with the future of the plant.
He laid the blame at the feet of Chris Bentley, who halted the conversion to natural gas in 2012, saying the province could save $400 million. And though power need estimates have been significantly raised under Chiarelli’s tenure, Hobbs said the minister has either been mislead or is “choosing to mislead the North” on its power needs.
“We feel we have demonstrated the fuel will be consumed the fuel will be consumed,” Hobbs said.
The group intends to continue to push the province later this month at the Ontario Good Roads Conference.