#onpoli newsletter - Going nuclear

Examining Ontario's moves when it comes to nuclear energy
By Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath - Published on Mar 03, 2020
Darlington Nuclear Generating Station in Ontario. (CP/Louie Palu)

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Hello, #onpoli people:

This week on the podcast, hosts Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath are talking about how the GTA’s growing unaffordability is pushing people to other parts of the province and the effect that’s having on cities around Ontario. Plus, what happens when the workers who keep a city running can’t afford to live in it?

But first...

With housing comes energy costs. This week in the newsletter, Steve and John Michael examine the province’s moves when it comes to nuclear energy. 

Steve: Well, John Michael, you and I are going to have a field day during this #onpoli newsletter because we’re going heavy on serious nerd policy. Energy policy! How’d you like to be the guy responsible for overseeing $12.8 billion worth of refurbishments to a nuclear plant?

John Michael: I’ve got my hands full managing substantially less important matters (and much less money). I’m going to pass. But the renovation at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station is one of the bigger projects the province is engaged in right now. On top of Darlington, there’s a project of similar scale happening out around Kincardine, at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station. All told, Ontario is spending something like $25 billion on nuclear rebuilds right now and… some days I think people don’t know it’s even happening? Unless, that is, they’ve been watching The Agenda lately.

Keeping the lights on

Steve: Thanks for the plug. Yes, indeed, we had the new president and CEO of Ontario Power Generation, Ken Hartwick, on the program last week. And his “to-do list” may be the most challenging of any public servant’s in the province right now. He’s in charge of that Darlington refurbishment and swears it will come in on time and on budget, despite numerous nuclear projects failing to do that in the past. He’s also got to concern himself with the decommissioning of the Pickering nuclear plant, because its natural life cycle is coming to an end. That’s likely to happen in five years. That’s about 3,000 lost megawatts of electricity generation. Amazingly, even with a Darlington unit down and a unit or two from the Bruce nuclear station also down for refurbishment, Hartwick says we’re still going to be A-OK when it comes to turning the lights on… that we’ll still have plenty of power.

More greenhouse-gas emissions? 

John Michael: It’s not just Hartwick saying the nuclear refurbishments are going well. In 2017 the province’s Financial Accountability Officer — a non-partisan office created by the legislature to scrutinize things like this — said the plan will “provide ratepayers with a long-term supply of relatively low-cost, low emissions electricity.” One thing I’ve been keeping an eye on is greenhouse gas emissions – with the province’s nuclear plants being under various forms of reconstruction over the next several years, Ontario is going to be relying more and more on natural gas plants to fill that gap, and that’s going to mean more carbon dioxide pollution. For the first time in a decade, our electricity is going to start getting dirtier, though it still won’t be half of what the power sector emitted in 2005. I don’t know if it’s ha-ha funny or not, but I can’t help but note this is one of the few things the Liberals did on energy policy that the Progressive Conservatives under Doug Ford haven’t criticized them for.

Clearing the air 

Man stands in front of Canadian and Ontario flags.
Former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty listens to a question as he speaks to the media at Queen's Park, 2012 (CP/Michelle Siu)

Steve: Perhaps this is a good time to mention that the list of Order of Ontario recipients for 2018 was just released last week and the name Dalton McGuinty — yes, Ontario’s 24th premier — was on the list. McGuinty will have to take his share of criticism for the Green Energy Act, but let the record also show that he was the premier who made the decision to close all the coal-fired electricity generating stations in the province, when many said it couldn’t be done. Well, he did it. We have no more smog days. And for that, we can be thankful.

John Michael: Absolutely. The nuclear industry has its critics, on cost and safety grounds, but in Ontario at least the nuclear industry helped make the coal shutdown possible. And with the federal government, as well as multiple provinces including Ontario, increasingly excited about the prospect of so-called small, modular reactors as the next frontier, I can’t help but note there’s exactly one place in Canada with an existing environmental approval for a new nuclear reactor: that would be the Darlington nuclear station. Ken Hartwick may get even busier in the not-so-distant future.

And another thing...

If you’ve made it this far, don’t forget: the Ontario Liberal Party is holding its leadership convention in Mississauga this Saturday, and people can follow all the action on The Agenda’s YouTube, Twitter and Facebook accounts. I suspect next week’s newsletter might have some thoughts about the weekend as well.

Just a reminder...

Want to know more? Check out the latest episode of #onpoli, out today.

Have thoughts on the show? Tell us what you think at onpolitics@tvo.org

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