An interesting exchange a week ago in the Ontario legislature gives an idea how the minority Liberal government intends to proceed with ensuring Ontario’s electrical future. The exchange was between energy minister Chris Bentley and NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns. Tabuns led off with a question, apropos of the newly elected Quebec separatist government’s announcement that it will not refurbish the Gentilly 2 nuclear plant, on whether Bentley will follow suit in the case of the Darlington nuclear plant east of Oshawa, which as I write this (0630 on Wednesday, September 19 2012) is generating 3,117 megawatts, or 20 percent of Ontario’s electricity and one quarter of its carbon-free electricity.
Bentley’s reply was this:
Nuclear has long been a clean fuel that happens, in the province of Ontario, to contribute to the employment of 70,000 people. The Darlington facility, which the NDP commissioned, happens to be one of the most efficient and effective nuclear facilities in the world. It makes sense to refurbish it so it can continue to contribute to our energy output—a stable, clean supply for decades to come.
… Nuclear has been a strong part of our energy supply, supporting 70,000-plus people in the province of Ontario. To those 70,000 people and families, the NDP says, “No, you’re out of a job.” To the clean energy that comes from nuclear power, the NDP says, “No, we’d rather have coal on standby.”
It’s great to be against everything. They [the NDP] don’t like nuclear. They don’t like the jobs. One of these days, they’re going to tell us what they really do like.
—Ontario energy minister Chris Bentley, source Ontario legislature Hansard transcripts, Wednesday September 12 2012
The Quebec PQ government’s announcement on Gentilly was itself apropos of a documentary that according to independent experts was an amateurish and ill-informed bit of muckraking by anti-nuclear activists. It’s no surprise that Tabuns would favourably invoke the PQ announcement, even if it was based on crass and likely deliberate misinformation: he used to be a Greenpeace campaigner.
But it is disappointing to read, in the same Hansard transcript, Tabuns’s fellow NDP caucus member Cheri DiNovo (member for Parkdale-High Park) also criticizing the upcoming Darlington project, and on the basis of cost. While the four existing Darlington reactors were providing a fifth of Ontario’s electricity this morning, the entire provincial wind fleet was providing only one-fiftieth. Does Cheri DiNovo really think wind deserves equal amounts of scarce investment dollars?
Nuclear routinely obtains capacity utilization rates in the high 90-percent range; this is why it produces such cheap electricity. Wind regularly gets extremely low utilization rates (at six-thirty this morning, the entire wind fleet was generating only 31 percent of its capacity); that is why the Ontario FIT program has to pay wind developers 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, more than double the nuclear rate. And that is not even the entire real cost of wind. Because wind is unreliable (its output has now dropped to 273 megawatts, as Ontario heads into the morning peak hours), there must be a parallel fleet of gas-fired generators to pick up the slack. That gas-fired fleet does not come for free; I estimate that gas-fired power costs Ontario rate payers upwards of 17 cents per kWh (see article).
Nuclear’s extreme efficiency and reliability is why Bentley praised Darlington: unlike Greenpeace, he actually runs an energy system. It is also why the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, prefers nuclear energy over renewables like wind. To lift themselves out of grinding poverty, poor people in developing countries need reliable power, not politically correct non-performers like wind.
I mention the Dalai Lama because DiNovo goes out of her way to let everyone within earshot know that her district, Parkdale-High Park, contains a huge Tibetan community, perhaps the largest in the world outside Tibet. I attended a very interesting debate in which DiNovo participated; she must have referred to “His Holiness, the Dalai Lama“ at least fifteen times.
If nuclear energy is good enough for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, then it should be good enough for the MPP for Parkdale-High Park.
But at least it’s good enough for the incumbent Ontario energy minister, who has the political backbone to praise it in public. He knows where our energy comes from.