May 14, 2023

Electrical supply strains show we need to get serious about Ontario’s power supply

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Almost all the important challenges facing the Ontario government — health care, housing, education, transit, power — are complex and long term.

They demand foresight, planning and investment. In most cases, the province should have been at work on solutions to our current woes decades ago. We rely on governments to not just deliver services in the present but show the foresight and fortitude to plan for the future.

Unhappily, our political system is not ideally suited to such vision, granting as it does mandates of just four-year terms in which governments are averse to delayed gratification. Rarely are there political rewards for actions that avert a crisis years in the future.

Worse still, Ontario's current premier is, by nature, impulsive, given to reversals, fascinated by the immediacy of licence places and gas-pump stickers.

It would appear, however, that on the question of power supply, Ontario has run out of road down which to kick its problems.

As reported by the Star's Rob Ferguson, Ontario was singled out in a recent electricity regulator's report that warned two-thirds of North America is "at risk of energy shortfalls this summer" should temperatures spike.

This summer. Sooner than experts were expecting just a year ago.

"Ontario has entered a period during which generation and transmission outages will be increasingly difficult to accommodate," said the North American Electric Reliability Corp. And, it added, the shortage is apt to last "for the foreseeable future."

NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns raised the possibility of brownouts before the end of August — the 20th anniversary of a massive blackout across northeastern North America.

"Ontario is the only province in Canada that has an elevated risk that it can't meet peak demand," he warned.

Tabuns blamed Premier Doug Ford's government for axing 758 renewable energy projects shortly after taking power in 2018.

Tellingly, the report on electricity reliability says that "increased, rapid deployment of wind, solar and batteries have made a positive impact," further driving home how short-sighted Ontario was to scrap such projects.

At the time, Ford called them "unnecessary and expensive energy schemes." A year later, Bill Walker, then-associate energy minister, said "Ontario has an adequate supply of energy right now."

There was smugness and complacency in the premier's approach and the minister's comment and a shocking lack of foresight, for which Ontario residents and businesses may soon pay a price.

As Tabuns said, climate change means "we’re going to see more extreme weather that increases the chances we’ll have outages."

The estimated timelines of even last year — when one report said Ontario could face energy shortages as early as 2026 — have proven over-optimistic.

The Independent Electricity System Operator, which manages Ontario's electricity supply, said in an assessment last year that economic growth coming out of the pandemic and transition to green power by sectors such as transportation and manufacturing were driving increases in energy use.

The Ford government makes much about being "open for business." But a secure supple of electricity has a good deal to say about the extent of any welcome.

In the Windsor area, where auto giant Stellantis has suspended construction of a massive electric-vehicle battery plant while contract details are sorted out, there may not be "sufficient supply," the latest report said.

Ontario is already experiencing an early June heat wave and the latest report said extended refurbishments at nuclear plants could result in a power pinch.

That would mean turning to imported power if the coming months prove hotter than usual.

For its part, Ford's government more or less shrugged.

"We have a grid in Ontario that is the envy of all jurisdictions in North America — one that's clean, one that's affordable and one that's reliable and one that's safe," said Energy Minister Todd Smith.

For the province's sake, let's hope the minister isn't soon whistling in the dark.

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