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Ontarians willing to pay higher electricity bills, Duncan says

Province to battle lung disease in fight against pollution, conference hears

Globe and Mail - March 3, 2004
by Richard Mackie

Ontario residents are willing to pay substantially more on their monthly electricity bills for cleaner air and increased use of renewable power sources instead of relying on smog-producing coal for power, Energy Minister Dwight Duncan says.

Concerns about respiratory disease are so widespread that the government is under pressure to fight air pollution, he told a conference of engineers who work at Ontario Power Generation.

Lung-disease rates are "going through the roof," and Ontario will be a leader in pursuing clean air, Mr. Duncan told the society of engineers last week. His office confirmed his comments yesterday.

Mr. Duncan said the government believes that Ontarians are willing "to pay two or three cents a kilowatt-hour more to help ensure that as a government or as a sector we're not contributing to our air problem."

However, the Liberal government likely would face overwhelming consumer outrage if it moved precipitously to make such a change, based on the experience of the former Progressive Conservative government in 2002.

Angie Robson, communications assistant to Mr. Duncan, said the minister did not forecast increases of two or three cents a kilowatt-hour but used the figures only to illustrate how much Ontario residents would value cleaner air.

A three-cent increase per kilowatt-hour would raise monthly bills for the electricity used by a typical home by about $30, to about $80. Bills include other charges that add to the total.

Consumers protested widely when average prices for electricity jumped 1.5 cents a kilowatt-hour after the Conservatives lifted an eight-year freeze.

When Tory MPPs supported the protests, former premier Ernie Eves reimposed the price freeze.

At present, the electricity portion of the bills -- exclusive of other charges -- for a typical home using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month is $43.

Next month, the electricity bill for a typical home will rise by $6 a month to $49.

The charge per kilowatt-hour will go to 4.7 cents for the first 750 kilowatt-hours. Additional electricity will cost 5.5 cents a kilowatt-hour. That will produce a charge for electricity of $49 a month -- the base $35.25 plus $13.75.

Other charges, including transmission, local distribution, administration and debt payments, which add $50 to $55 a month to the basic bill, will rise slightly. These charges vary across the province.

Ms. Robson stressed that the minister could not predict specific prices, because the Ontario Energy Board is developing a mechanism for setting electricity prices without political involvement, to be put in place on May 1, 2005.

Instead, he was illustrating the government's commitment to shutting down all five of the province's coal-fired generating plants, despite continued warnings that such action would leave Ontario short of power, she said.

The government is looking at promising alternatives for power, and some so-called clean alternatives to coal have not been ruled out, Mr. Duncan said at the meeting on Feb. 24.

He said the government wants to increase the power supplied by water sources, though that potential is very limited. At most, Ontario could obtain 3,500 megawatts in additional power from water, or about the amount produced by six nuclear generating units. "I want to squeeze every last drop of juice out of our rivers and streams that I can," Mr. Duncan said.

The government is committed to shutting the Lakeview plant next year and the other four plants by 2007.

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