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Ontario on brink of blackout

Canadian Press - August 3, 2005
by Keith Leslie

PONTYPOOL, Ontario - People in Ontario will have to curb their consumption of electricity for at least two more summers before new generating capacity finally comes on line, Premier Dalton McGuinty warned Wednesday.

"We're going to need the help of Ontarians to help us get over this hump, essentially," McGuinty said during a visit to this eastern Ontario community near Peterborough.

McGuinty said his government will embark on what he called "the most aggressive construction program for new generation in North America" with new plants that will produce 9,000 megawatts of power for the province. "That will take two, maybe three summers of strain, and what it will mean is we will have to call upon Ontarians to do their part when it comes to conserving electricity," he said. "It would have been nice if that work had begun some seven or eight years ago, but it wasn't and this is where we find ourselves at this point in time."

Wednesday's sweltering heat in Ontario forced energy operators to reduce the province's electricity voltage by five per cent.

Terry Young of the province's Independent Electricity System Operator said four generating units are out of service due to repairs, cutting 3,000 megawatts out of the system.

McGuinty said he doesn't think consumers will notice the reduction in voltage, the third so-called "level two" alert issued by the IESO this summer.

"What it does reinforce is the need for all of us to participate as responsible citizens when it comes to help in conserving electricity," he said.

Young said most lighting equipment and appliances are built to withstand reduced voltages, but asked residents to reduce their power usage by refraining from using large appliances such as washing machines in peak hours.

Police warned drivers in communities north of Toronto to use extra caution as traffic signals could malfunction as a result of the cutbacks. Since the disruptions are rolling, it's impossible to warn motorists about exactly which traffic lights are affected, they said.

After making a greenspace announcement near Peterborough, McGuinty said his government "doesn't have the luxury of ruling out" the construction of new nuclear plants to meet demand. "Our responsibility is to ensure there is an affordable, reliable supply of electricity here in Ontario," he said.

The premier did rule out help for northern pulp and paper mills struggling with soaring power costs, saying governments can no longer afford to subsidize electricity prices.

The province's power troubles Wednesday included downed units at the Pickering and Bruce nuclear plants, and two downed coal units at Nanticoke.

Intense heat has also strained circuits used to bring in more power from the United States, making it impossible for Ontario to import power, Young said.

"We have an extraordinary weather cycle in which we happen to find ourselves, and it's creating an extraordinary demand for electricity," said McGuinty. "We're under a bit of a strain right now, there's no doubt about it."

But Conservative Leader John Tory said the Liberal government has no real plan to solve Ontario's energy problems and claimed the province is on the verge of brownouts as a result. "McGuinty's only plan is to tell people to sit at home in the dark with the air conditioner off and the dirty dishes piling up," Tory said in a release.

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