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Energy Policy Needed Before Lights Go Out

-Nuclear plants will be worn out by 2018
-Bruce Power calls for industry overhaul
By John Spears, Toronto Star, www.thestar.com., November 27, 2003

The nuclear generating units that produced 58 per cent of Ontario's electricity last year will all reach the end of their normal operating lives by 2018 if they're not extensively overhauled, the chief executive of Bruce Power warned yesterday.

On top of that, the new Liberal government maintains it's still aiming to close all the coal-burning plants in the province by 2007, Duncan Hawthorne said in a speech to an electricity industry group.

That puts a further squeeze on Ontario's supply of power.

"I do believe we'll fix this, and we will find a way to make investment credible," Hawthorne stressed in an interview.

But he said the state of Ontario's aging or dirty generators make it urgent for the province to start thinking about policies to refurbish or replace them.

Hawthorne was speaking to the Association of Power Producers of Ontario, formerly the Independent Power producers Society of Ontario.

Ontario's energy minister, Dwight Duncan, has said adding more generating capacity in Ontario is at the top of his priority list. But he's also about to receive a possibly damning report on the floundering attempts to restart the mothballed Pickering A nuclear station, which is three years behind schedule and more than $1 billion over budget. One of four units was restarted in September, but shut down due to an equipment failure two weeks ago.

Duncan is due to receive the report next week.

Hawthorne said Ontario's other nuclear units currently operating don't have a long lifespan. The normal life cycle for units at Ontario Power Generation's Pickering B station runs until about 2009 to 2012, he said.

OPG's newer Darlington station will start to wind down in 2016 unless there's a major overhaul, he said. It's the same story for Bruce Power's Bruce B plant near Kincardine, which exits around 2018 without a major overhaul. Two newly refurbished units at the Bruce A station have even shorter lifespans.

"If you look at that, by 2018, 2020, there's nothing left," Hawthorne said. The schedule of potential closings adds urgency to the situation because if Ontario decides to build a new nuclear plant - a policy decision that hasn't been made - it would have to be started almost immediately to be ready by 2011, Hawthorne said.

Nuclear plants make up about 40 per cent of Ontario's generating capacity. But because they run all day, all year, except for maintenance shutdowns, they produce a proportionately larger share of Ontario's electricity.

Other plants, such as coal and gas-burning plants, operate only when demand is heavy. Filling the gap left by Ontario's coal plants won't be easy, Hawthorne said. Renewable energy sources, such as wind power, can't realistically fill the void; the number of waterways suitable for hydro-electric generation is limited; and natural gas supplies are tight. That's why governments have to think now about filling the gap left by coal and the aging nuclear plants, he said.

"If you leave it to the market, you'll get short-term decision making," Hawthorne said. Refurbishing or building new nuclear plants takes a long time and requires long-term financing, so the government has to create an environment for long-term investments if it wants to stick with nuclear energy, he said.

Dave Goulding, chief executive of the Independent Electricity Market Operator, has also called on the province to make up its mind about the future of nuclear power. Goulding estimates the province needs to build or overhaul 15,000 megawatts of generating capacity over the next 15 years to replace plants due for closing.