Tracking back the billion-dollar gas plant trail

By MPP Toby Barrett

On the heels of what may be one of the largest scandals in Ontario’s history, the long and convoluted trail to the truth has been revealed by the office of Ontario’s auditor-general.

As we now know, the cost of cancelling the Oakville and Mississauga power plants was $1.1 billion, far more than previously thought and considerably larger than claimed. The figures were confirmed recently with the release of Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s report on the Oakville gas plant, and the previous report by Auditor General Jim McCarter on Mississauga. Both plants were scrapped to save Liberal electoral seats in the western GTA.

Just how did we come to the point of wasting over a billion dollars?

The Liberals took office in 2003 with an election pledge to phase out coal by 2007. That date was later moved to 2014, with Nanticoke now slated to close this December. At the time, electricity demand was expected to increase and a request for proposal for new build was issued. My question – why was there no requirement for the proposed power stations to be located in the same area as the coal-fired plants being shuttered?

In September 2009 TransCanada Energy Ltd. was contracted to build a combined-cycle gas-generation facility in Oakville, but the Town of Oakville was opposed. Rather than an Oakville build, former Haldimand County Mayor Trainer and I requested routing natural gas to OPG Nanticoke.

In October 2010, the government cancelled Oakville, and in December 2012 announced a deal with Trans Canada to relocate at Napanee, of all places!

The successful bidder for the Mississauga plant – called the Greenfield South Power Plant – was Eastern Power Ltd. In the 1990s, Eastern Power built two small plants that generate electricity from landfill methane. Again before construction began, I requested natural gas generation be considered at Nanticoke instead of Mississauga.

Construction began at Greenfield South in June 2011. But in September 2011 – a month before the last election – the Liberal party announced the Mississauga plant would be relocated. The next summer we found out it was going to OPG’s Lambton.

The auditor general now reports it will cost taxpayers and ratepayers up to $1.1 billion to scrap the two gas plants – all this to save five Liberal seats in Oakville, Mississauga South, Mississauga East-Cooksville, Etobicoke-Lakeshore and Etobicoke Centre. That kind of money could reduce wait times for MRIs, help balance the budget or prevent the ongoing climb in our electricity bills.

The report also identified the price paid to contractors was too high. In Oakville’s case, local opposition would likely have killed the plant without paying penalties – although it would have been after the election.

Outcry over the gas plants triggered McGuinty’s resignation on October 15, 2012, followed by Energy Minister Chris Bentley.

We know that Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty made snap decisions to cancel gas plants with no thought whatsoever to the cost. Now-Premier Wynne was involved from the start. She was the co-chair of the Liberal campaign and signed the government document that authorized the Oakville plant cancellation.

Ontario’s Opposition wants a judicial inquiry. Many have lost confidence in the government and are stopping by to sign my petition to that effect. The ultimate decision remains with the people of Ontario.