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Power system needs enlightened planning

St. Catharines Standard - Thursday, June 26, 2003

So far, the lights have stayed on. Good luck, however, may have played a more significant role than good planning in seeing the power supply meet demands placed upon it by this week's hot spell.

Sure, the sweltering stickiness is only a few days old and temperatures are expected to fall later this week, likely bringing relief to the power supply and to residents who enjoy a more comfortable climate.

But the spike in demand for power and the latest warning of shortages from Ontario's electricity market regulator remind us of the tenuous state of our power supply.

We can also see the less-than-effective way the provincial government has been dealing with it and the need to work harder to ensure Ontarians have the electricity they need.

Sure, the Tories will say they're trying.

They'll have natural gas generators — including one in Port Colborne — running later this summer.

They've launched a process to select consultants to advise on the feasibility of extending the Sir Adam Beck hydroelectric generating station along the Niagara River. Ontario Power Generation is also talking with the Ministry of Energy about how to proceed with a third water tunnel to supply Beck.

They'll also point out that last week, Premier Ernie Eves met with Manitoba counterpart Gary Doer at the picture postcard-perfect Kakabeka Falls to sign a document that could lead to construction of a $5.5-billion hydro-electric project.

While it's all well and good to be thinking ahead about such projects, the government's approach is fraught with problems and reflects a lack of good foresight in the past.

The generators will pump out more power, but they won't be online until next month.

It will be years before feasibility studies into major power projects add one watt to the power grid.

Expectations that two key nuclear generating power plants would be back in service have also fallen short, adding further strain to the power system.

So that leaves us with the rather unsettling spectacle of Eves urging consumer conservation and looking skyward for a little divine intervention, suggesting that if the individual up above gives us a little help, then maybe everything will work out.

Faith is comforting and conservation can't hurt, but neither approach guarantees a sustainable Ontario power supply.

Past shortcomings in power planning can't be repaired, but we can urge the government to do everything it can now to ensure adequate electricity supplies in the future.

The solutions could be small, such as coming up with better ways to ensure nuclear reactors are brought back up to speed on time the current penalty clauses in their contracts clearly don't work.

Other solutions, such as seeing feasibility studies turn into power-producing projects, will be tougher to find, cost more money, require more commitment.

But they are essential if Ontario is to produce the power it needs to keep our lights on.

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