The Power Workers’ Union (CUPE Local 1000) placed a print ad in at least one Ontario vehicle recently that was a sight for sore eyes and music to my ears. Responding to a new offensive by the natural gas industry, itself a response to a governmental review of the provincial Long Term Energy Plan, the PWU ad says this:
Several forces—the global recession, new wind, solar and natural gas generation along with the refurbishment of two Bruce Power nuclear reactors—have converged to create an increase in temporary power surpluses. Emboldened by this situation, proponents of more wind, solar and natural gas generation have attacked the planned refurbishment of Ontario’s remaining nuclear reactors and the construction of new ones… .
This passage is about the closest anyone in the Canadian nuclear industry has come to framing as starkly as possible the conflict that is at the bottom of the Ontario electricity war. This is nuclear versus natural gas. This conflict has been developing since before the Ontario Liberals promised to phase out the provincial coal-fired generating stations. The PWU understood this from early on and over the years has pretty consistently underscored the negative implications of a wholesale move to gas. I hope others are listening.
The gas lobby has also long understood the opportunity that arose with the coal phaseout. And, understanding also the constituencies that were helping it demonize coal, it got greedy and went after nuclear as well. But it has switched strategy in light of the catastrophic outcome of its initial success. When I say “catastrophic” I refer of course to the political price the Liberals have paid for adopting such a pro-gas policy. The Liberals have been the gas lobby’s best friend; because of that friendship, they lost first their majority position in the legislature, then their leader and premier, and now their very existence as a government is in jeopardy.
Sensing that its prime benefactor might be gone soon, and worried that even if it is not gone soon the incumbent government will soon realize what trouble the gas lobby has caused it, the gas lobby has taken to public outside advocacy. Last week the president of Enbridge parlayed the big dollars he has showered on the Toronto Star in the form of endless large advertisements over the years into a friendly article in which he is described as calling for a level playing field (as if it has not for years been tilted in his direction).
And today, the gas association had a letter published in Mississauga.com in which its representative sells the carbon-heavy fuel and sells it hard. Ballsy move, considering that it was the Mississauga gas plant cancellation that led to the former premier’s forced resignation and the ongoing and continually unfolding scandal that has rocked Queen’s Park.
There is no possibility that the current Liberal government has not drawn the link between its minority situation and the gas side of its green energy policy. This is why a review of the LTEP is under way.
It is also a certainty that the Liberals are considering a rethink of their communications around clean energy. They have an amazing environmental record to point to. As I have said many times, annual Ontario electricity-sector greenhouse gases dropped from over 40 million tons in 2000 to around 16 million last year. I know of no other jurisdiction that can point to a reduction that size. That reduction was almost entirely due to refurbished nuclear units re-entering service; these units all returned when the Liberals were in power.
I just hope the new Liberal government weighs the respective arguments of the PWU and gas lobby. And does not forget the gas lobby, in its dash to sell carbon heavy fossil fuel to Ontario, has put the Liberal minority government into such jeopardy.
Nuclear, as I said back in October 2012, is friend to both friend and foe.