By MPP Toby Barrett
A decade ago, as Mr. McGuinty and others launched their anti-coal crusade, I recall then Premier Ernie Eves cutting through the rhetoric and separating fact from fiction:
“If the leader of the official opposition is suggesting to the people of Ontario that doing what he suggests be done, even though he knows it would cost $6 billion, even though he knows it’s not practical…he would know that even if he did all that, tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock, the majority of air pollution in the province of Ontario comes from our great neighbours to the south, the United States of America. It’s a fact of life. There are over 200 coal-powered plants in the United States of America whose bad air ends up especially in southwestern Ontario, where over 90 per cent of the pollution is caused by US pollution, not by Ontario pollution.”
Fast forward 10 years to McGuinty’s announcement to close Nanticoke Generating Station a year ahead of schedule, and we continue to see coal plants dotting the map upwind of Ontario in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and New York. As Nanticoke turns off the lights this year, workers on the other side of the border will ensure coal emissions continue to flow in our common airshed.
The battle for common sense over hysteria was joined early by a grassroots group known as the Clean Affordable Energy (CAE) Alliance comprised of energy professionals, and interested residents. They strongly made the case the McGuinty direction was not based on science and economics, but on misrepresentation.
Through 10 years of petitions, legislative motions, plant visits, meetings, and symposia, I attempted to bring common sense arguments to the Ontario Legislature where I was often met by name-calling – in Liberal circles I’m known as ‘Dirty coal’, my Lambton colleague Bob Bailey is ‘King Coal’. I joined leader John Tory in calling for “financial analysis and environmental analysis” into clean coal technology. In the last election, Tim Hudak adopted alternatives of natural gas/biomass. I called for research and action on carbon sequestration.
More recently I requested government consider a number of options to repower the Nanticoke facility whether it be through natural gas or farm biomass – while government has gotten hopes up with talks of pilot projects and pipelines.
Over 40 years, Nanticoke Generating Station has supplied more than 560 billion kilowatt hours of electricity – enough to power Ontario for four years. In 2009, the plant employed 650, and traditionally contributed $3 to $4 million in property taxes, and up to $5.7 million in the purchase of local goods and services.
As of last week that investment, that affordable energy production, those jobs, and emission reduction commitment have all been lost to a bungled energy plan that has brought in high cost, unreliable and unwanted wind power. To this day, the numbers still don’t add up – electricity bills have doubled. Coal plants produce energy at 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour, and we pay 11.5 for wind.
The political manipulation of our energy sector and downright disrespectful treatment of our people and our contributions cannot bury the pride we continue to hold for producing 40 years of reliable, affordable energy at OPG Nanticoke.