Over 150,000 kilometres of high voltage transmission and low voltage distribution lines deliver electricity from Ontario’s generating stations to our homes and businesses. Maintaining the reliability of this ageing system of lines and related equipment like transformer and distribution stations should be priority investment number one.
While “smart grid” investments can stimulate innovation, job creation and economic growth, they should be strategic and based on cost/benefit analyses that sustain the ageing power grid and the province’s transmission and distribution assets.
Smart grid investments that support Ontario’s transition to electric vehicles provide a good example. Ontario could realize significant economic and environmental benefits by powering “made-in-Ontario” zero- emission electric vehicles with the province’s low-carbon hydroelectric, nuclear and biomass electricity generation.
Ontario’s green energy policies are driving the need for a smart grid. Ontario is spending billions of dollars on “smart grid” technologies to mange a supply mix now complicated by ever-changing production from wind and solar generation. Unfortunately, ratepayers are not being told what the final costs will be.
Smart meters and time-of-use rates generate huge volumes of data that must be managed and systems must respond to rapid changes in consumer demand. This shift to an information technology based electricity system presents two risks for ratepayers. The collection, use and disclosure of information by utilities and third parties about personal electricity usage raise privacy issues. As well, this shift is raising concerns about cyber attacks that could seriously disrupt the electricity system.
Meanwhile the financial viability of the province’s transmission company, Hydro One, is being undermined by government policy. Big multi-national companies that have already received ratepayer-supported incentives for wind and solar farms are being granted transmission licenses. This “balkanization” of Ontario’s grid system, reduces Hydro One’s potential earnings, which means reduced benefits for all Ontario ratepayers.
The province’s local distribution companies, most of which are publically-owned are juggling other major fiscal challenges including the delivery of conservation programs, the integration of intermittent renewable generation, and the training of skilled workers to replace a wave of retirements.
The Minister of Energy should be commended for resisting ill-advised recommendation to force sales and amalgamations of Local Distribution Companies. There is no conclusive evidence that bigger is naturally better when it comes to the operation of electrical utilities. The current regime of “willing buyer, willing seller” has reduced the number of utilities in Ontario from 308 to 76 since 1998.
Ontario does have an extraordinary ‘smart’-grid investment opportunity: electric vehicles. There is a natural synergy between Ontario’s low-carbon hydroelectric, nuclear and biomass electricity generation and the province’s large auto sector. Electric vehicles could leverage Ontario’s $6 billion a year, 60,000 job nuclear industry; its auto sector with 400,000 jobs; provincially-owned electricity assets, and; the province’s forestry, agriculture and transportation sectors. It could also provide a boost to the electrification of Ontario’s public transit systems. Such strategic investments, besides ensuring long-term and emission-free electricity would also significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and particulate matter from Ontario’s largest source - transportation.
For more information Transmission and Distribution please go to the following websites: