We Know a Thing or Two About Ontario’s Electricity Needs

By Mel Hyatt, President, Power Workers’ Union

Since 1946, the Power Workers’ Union (PWU), a proudly Canadian union, has helped keep the lights on in Ontario. Our dedicated membership of 16,000 men and women work in all parts of Ontario’s electricity system – operating and maintaining generation, transmission, distribution and control functions.

Our membership has successfully partnered with both private and public employers to help these companies achieve success. Our PWU membership work, live, and play in communities across Ontario. Our families pay electricity bills too.

This broad knowledge of Ontario’s energy sector, decades of “on the ground” experience, and learned expertise, give us a unique perspective on what constitutes “common sense” electricity policy. As Ontario’s electricity sector has been deregulated and privatized, the PWU has never shied away from advocating for better policy decisions in municipal, provincial and federal decision-making forums.

We’ve always backed up our views with independent, expert economic analysis and fact-based assessments. The negative outcomes of Ontario’s Green Energy Act for Ontario consumers, confirm that these analyses were on the mark. Our decades of experience also validate the PWU’s view that transparent, cost/benefit-based analysis is a prerequisite for good policy decisions.

The PWU has also consistently lobbied decision-makers to focus on Ontario’s proven low-carbon energy foundation – nuclear, hydro and forest and agricultural- sourced biomass. These resources ensure “made-in-Ontario” clean energy security, reducing the province’s dependence upon expensive, imported, carbon-emitting fossil fuels. In today’s world, energy security equals economic competitiveness.

Over the last decade, several independent studies demonstrate the economic, social and environmental benefits of Ontario’s $6 B/yr nuclear. The underway refurbishment of Ontario’s nuclear reactor fleet is providing tens of thousands of jobs and billions of spend in our province. That’s in addition to the reliable, clean-baseload electricity and environmental and cancer treatment benefits provided.

Ontario’s hydropower represents about a ¼ of the province’s low-carbon supply mix. Unlike neighbouring Manitoba and Quebec, we are not as blessed with hydroelectric resources and have already built most of our commercially-viable potential. Recognizing this fact, Ontario’s leadership in the 1970s partnered with the federal government to develop CANDU nuclear technology.

Ontario’s vast, renewable forestry and agricultural biomass resources are another significant opportunity to produce more low-carbon energy and heat, create good paying jobs in forestry, agriculture, transportation and R&D. New high value products and technologies can also be developed from this platform. Europe is well down this path and now is building bio-refineries to produce bio-fuels and chemicals. Ironically, they are purchasing our biomass resources.

Today, Ontario’s new electricity players are calling for policies, regulations and ratepayer/taxpayer supported subsidies that encourage distributed energy resources or DER. Emerging information technologies and smart controls are linking intermittent wind and solar generation to back up storage batteries and to form microgrids. These investments are promoted as cost-effective ways to reduce Greenhouse Gases, improve resiliency, provide more customer choice e.g., be a “prosumer” (produce, use and sell your own power) and job creating.

Some advocates – multi-national companies, technology developers, financiers and prosumers – see the opportunity to capture a share of the electricity sector’s solid revenue streams. Ontario’s local distribution companies, mostly government-owned, are partnering with the private sector and asking for these activities be deregulated.

How will the costs and benefits be defined and shared among the consumers and shareholders? Who pays for stranded assets as Ontario’s bulk electricity system is “balkanized” and reconfigured by the new players? Who manages the toxic wastes from millions of solar panels, thousands of wind turbines and unknown numbers of batteries? Will Ontario consumers ultimately pay for what they need and can afford — electricity service “cellphone-type packages”?

Ontario is not California, Denmark or Germany — we have significant low-cost, low-carbon energy in our nuclear and hydroelectric fleet and biomass resources. Based on the facts, the biggest benefits from further electrification of Ontario’s economy result from building new nuclear units, investing in small modular reactors, building our remaining practicable hydro and expanding Thunder Bay Region’s biomass innovation cluster.