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Ontario better prepared for blackout: McGuinty

Canadian Press - August 12, 2004

Barrie Ontario — Ontario remains vulnerable to blackouts, but could bounce back more quickly than it did after last summer's power failure in the event of another electricity crisis, Premier Dalton McGuinty said today.

"Are we totally immune from blackouts now? No, we are not," McGuinty said at the opening of Hydro One's new $125-million grid control centre in this city 100 kilometres north of Toronto. "But we are in a much better position to control the spread of a blackout, because we can control it here."

McGuinty urged the United States to pass legislation imposing federal standards on American utilities to prevent a repeat of last year's power failure and to establish control centres similar to Hydro One's new operation.

"This is the gold standard," he said.

McGuinty said Ontario's control centre, which constantly monitors all power transmission lines across Ontario, is the next step to a safer, more secure supply of electricity, and will mean a much quicker response time in any future crisis.

"We can now get the lights on sooner and get people back to work quicker than we could a year ago," he said.

The premier praised the workers at the new control centre for contributing to Ontario's safety "by beavering away in anonymity" at the ultra-modern operation, with its huge electronic screens showing the status of every transmission line in the province in bright, primary colours.

Yellow indicates a problem line," and the entire board was yellow last August," said Hydro One vice president Dave Barrie.

Energy Minister Dwight Duncan told the Hydro One workers their ability to respond to a crisis so much more quickly at the new control centre is good news for residents and business.

"Knowing that today our province is better equipped to respond to such an event in future should help all Ontarians sleep better at night," said Duncan.

Barrie agreed that Ontario would be vulnerable if another situation arose like the one that crippled the power grid last summer, but said it wasn't likely because the Ohio utility that was blamed for the blackout has made sure there are no trees anywhere near its transmission lines. "Any tree they could find, they cut," said Barrie, who estimated the provincial grid could now be restored in about four hours, down from 12 hours last summer.

But getting the grid back on line doesn't mean there's electricity to transmit, which Ontario found out last summer.

Ontario lagged far behind New York and other neighbours in getting back to normal because of its heavy reliance on nuclear plants, which take longer than other power generators to bring back on line. But McGuinty said Ontario has also improved its "blackstart" capabilities by installing generators at the nuclear stations.

"We now have generating capacity on site to get those nukes back up and running much more quickly," said McGuinty. "We didn't have that ability to the extent we should have had before."

The premier and energy minister spoke very little about the need for energy conservation during their tour of Hydro One, but said the government would launch another public relations campaign to encourage people to reduce power usage.

The latest report shows Ontarians used more power in the relatively cool July this summer than they did in July 2003, just before the blackout. That suggests people have forgotten any conservation lessons learned last summer.

"We're hardly going to give up on reducing demand," said McGuinty.

Duncan and McGuinty said the Liberals still have a goal to close all of Ontario's coal-fired generating stations by 2007, but left the door open Thursday to keeping those plants available to be used in times of future power shortages.

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