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Tunnel to expand Niagara power plant

Output to boost Ontario supply 1%
Enough electricity for 160,000 homes

Toronto Star - June 26, 2004
by John Spears

The Niagara River doesn't have enough water to operate a proposed new generating station at Niagara Falls, a feasibility study has concluded.

But there is enough water to allow Ontario Power Generation to bore a new tunnel that will supply more water to existing generators at the Sir Adam Beck generating station, energy minister Dwight Duncan said yesterday in giving the green light to the project.

The increased output from the new tunnel will boost Ontario's electricity supply by about 1 per cent, Duncan said, or enough power to supply 160,000 homes.

The project will cost $600 million and take 4 1/2 years to complete.

"The more electricity we can generate from clean sources such as Niagara Falls, the better it is for all Ontarians," Duncan said.

The province is scrambling to find new sources of power because demand continues to climb. Ontario has faced power shortages in each of the past two summers, but the Liberals have pledged to close all Ontario's coal-burning power plants by 2007.

The output increase from the new tunnel will cover about 4 per cent of the production lost by closing the coal plants, Duncan said.

Duncan also kicked off a new bidding process yesterday for the right to build 2,500 megawatts of new generating capacity in the province, or enough to supply about 10 per cent of the province's needs on a day of peak demand.

Proposals to reduce demand will be considered on an equal footing with proposals to increase supply. A bidding process for the right to build 300 megawatts of renewable generating capacity has already started.

The province had considered building an entirely new power station at Niagara Falls, but a technical study showed there isn't enough water in the river to supply it.

To run the Niagara Falls generating stations, water is diverted from the river above the falls and channelled through two tunnels to power stations below the falls at Queenston, where the rushing water spins turbines that power the generators.

A treaty with the United States sets a limit on the amount of water each country can divert to its power stations. The two existing tunnels can't carry all the water Canada is allowed to use; the new, third tunnel will allow Canada to use all the water the country is permitted.

Diverting enough water to run an extra power station would dry up the famous falls. Instead of thundering water, tourists would see the equivalent of a rock-climbing wall, Duncan said. Nor would the expected revenue from the proposed station cover the cost of building it, according to the study.

The cost of producing power at the Beck station is very low — about 1.5 cents a kilowatt hour, Duncan said.

OPG's output and prices are to be regulated under recently introduced legislation. Expanding the supply of low-cost hydro power will keep the regulated price at moderate, stable levels, he said.

OPG's future is far from settled. It is looking for a new board and chief executive officer. And the province is reviewing its size and role.

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