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Plans threaten 900 Hydro jobs

Shutting down coal-fired electricity plants would be a 'devastating' move.

London Free Press - March 18, 2004
by Peter Geigen-Miller

More than 900 high-paying jobs could be lost in Southwestern Ontario if the provincial government goes ahead with plans to close coal-fired electricity plants by the end of 2007. On the line are more than 600 jobs at the Nanticoke generating station on the shores of Lake Erie in Haldimand County and 300 more jobs at the Lambton station on the St. Clair River south of Sarnia.

The impact on the community could be "devastating," Haldimand Mayor Marie Trainer said yesterday.

Environmentalists are loudly applauding the government's determination to close the coal plants, saying the plan will eliminate a major source of air pollution.

But critics warn the shutdown will create a serious electricity shortage in Ontario and drive up prices since it will be impossible to build enough new generating capacity by 2007 to meet spiralling demand for power.

The coal plants supply 7,500 megawatts of power, about 25 per cent of the province's generating capacity.

But provincial Energy Minister Dwight Duncan said yesterday the province will embark on the largest peacetime investment in Canadian history to keep electricity rates competitive when the coal plants close.

Duncan said it will likely cost between $30 billion and $40 billion to refurbish Ontario Power Generation's (OPG) trouble-prone nuclear power program and build enough generating capacity to replace the polluting coal-fired plants.

"We are looking at a massive investment of capital going forward," Duncan said at a news conference the day after OPG reported a $491-million loss, wrote off the value of its coal-fired plants and released a damning audit of its operations.

The plant-closing plans do not sit well with Trainer. She said the idea of losing the massive Nanticoke generating plant is "extremely upsetting."

Nanticoke, the province's largest coal-fired plant, has eight generating units and supplies 3,920 megawatts of power.

"Closing of the plant will be very devastating for our community," Trainer said. And the impact won't stop with loss of jobs at the plant, she said.

"There would be a domino effect because the plant workers won't be stopping at restaurants or buying groceries. Then those businesses don't need to hire people, so it just keeps rippling through the community. It affects everyone."

On top of that would be the loss of the $2.6 million in taxes the power plant pays each year, Trainer said.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said any move to close the Lambton plant is bittersweet.

While he appreciates closing the coal-fired plant would benefit air quality, he worries about the loss of the plant's well-paying and high-skilled jobs.

The Lambton plant has four generating units and supplies 1,975 megawatts of power.

Bradley said the Lambton plant wouldn't have to close if OPG had followed his advice three years ago to convert it to cleaner-burning natural gas. "OPG fought me tooth and nail and I had very little support at the political (county council) level," he said.

But the Power Workers' Union, which represents workers in the electricity sector, said switching plants to natural gas would increase electricity prices by 15 per cent.

Natural gas prices are volatile and have risen sharply in the last few years, noted Don MacKinnon, the union's president. He fears closing the coal plants will result in a shortfall in electricity supply, putting upward pressure on prices. That would mean higher electricity prices for Ontario industries, likely resulting in a ripple of additional job losses, MacKinnon said.

One group applauding the government's intention to close the coal-fired plants is the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.

Closing the plants would bring a major improvement in air quality, said alliance representative Jack Gibbons.

He said the province will be able to replace the electricity lost by closing the plants by encouraging new sources of supply.

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