Don’t expect visionary long-term energy planning in Ontario

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November 7, 2016

The concept of “long term” for Ontario’s Liberal government and its energy ministers appears to be two or three years at best, or when a new minister is appointed.

Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault, who took over the reins last June, has now launched his version of “long-term” planning in the Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP). Consultations on the new plan are being held throughout November in various locations.

Minister Thibeault’s vision differs widely from his predecessor’s. Chiarelli’s view in 2013 was: “Several factors are at play that are likely to put upward pressure on electricity prices over the next several years, including the costs of rebuilding and renewing the electricity system and the supply gap that is likely to emerge toward the end of the current decade.

Chiarelli added, “Although the global economic downturn of the past few years dampened electricity demand in Ontario and elsewhere, a shortfall in capacity may emerge as early as 2018.”

Chiarelli’s version was full of bad news like that about supply gaps, whereas Minister Thibeault’s preamble to the launch of a new plan suggests, three years later, everything is rosy: “We have a robust supply of all forms of energy for at least the next 10 years.”

Anyone looking at the two forecasts would wonder what happened in that three-year time frame to so dramatically alter the vision.  Let’s examine a few of the changes:

In 2012 we exported 14.6 terawatts (TWh) of surplus energy at an average price of $24.07 per MWh (megawatt). That cost Ontario’s ratepayers $73.30/MWh to generate, so exports added about $720 million to the commodity cost.

In 2015 we exported 22.6 TWh (up 54.8% from 2012 and 16.5% of Ontario’s demand) of surplus energy at an average price of $23.58/MWh. That cost Ontario ratepayers $101.38/MWh to generate, so exports added about $1.8 billion to the commodity cost.

Save on energy … and pay more anyway

It is worth noting Ontario ratepayers reduced consumption from 2013 to 2015 by 3% (4.3 TWh) but saw their cost of electricity soar by 32%, principally due to contracts for the addition of about 3,000 MW of intermittent and unreliable power from industrial wind turbines and solar panels. The average commodity cost in July 2013 at the launch of Minister Chiarelli’s “Conservation First” long-term plan was 8.4 cents per kilowatt (kWh); at the launch of Minister Thibeault’s planning document it is 11.1 cents/kWh.

At this point in time it is obvious former Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli’s “gap” perhaps lay in the ability of his ministry to recognize that one of his predecessors (Dwight Duncan) had agreed to Bruce Nuclear refurbishing as many as four of their nuclear units. The Auditor General in a “special report” for the Ministry noted: A Limited Partnership (Bruce A LP), was formed, to not only refurbish Units 1 and 2 but also take over Cameco’s interest in Units 3 and 4 and make future improvements to them. Bruce A LP would thus ulti­mately be operating and maintaining all four Bruce A units. Those four units represent about 3,200 MW of reliable baseload power!

It seems obvious there are serious flaws in the planning process if we can go from a “shortfall” to a “robust supply” in only three years, knowing major generation supply sources take years of planning, development and construction.

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