Ontario’s Power System: How Much Control Should Politicians Have?

The Ontario Liberals announced this morning that if elected, they will move a locally controversial natural gas-fired power generating station planned for an area in south-east Mississauga. The energy development site in the riding of Liberal incumbent Charles Sousa and immediately adjacent to the riding now held by Liberal Laurel Broten. The announcement marks an important turning point in the election debate as a clear difference is developing between the electoral offerings of the main contenders regarding the governance of Ontario’s power system.

The announcement of the Mississauga generator decision echos the Liberal government’s decision almost exactly one year ago, shifting a similar but much larger facility once planned for Oakville that was also locally controversial.

The Oakville facility is in the process of being replaced by a combination of transmission upgrades and other gas generators, including one planned for Kitchener. The Mississauga generator was another part of the plan to fill the gap left by the Oakville decision.

In a prepared statement Sousa claims “Ontario Liberals will work with the developer to find a new location for the plant. It will not be in Etobicoke or Mississauga.” Etobicoke and Mississauga were both Liberal bastions in the last election.

The Liberal statement also claims, without any supporting references and contrary to many contradicting statements on the record by Mr. Hudak that “The Hudak PCs have committed to keeping dirty coal-fired pollution burning in Ontario.” If anyone knows what the Liberals are relying on in making this claim, please share.

The Liberal statement provides no analysis with respect to the costs of the cancellation, the measures that will be required to serve the needs that the power plant would have met, or the timing of its replacement.

The power supply to the western side of Toronto is extremely vulnerable to a protracted service interruption. This weakness is due to transmission deficiencies into the area and the absence of local generation. This problem was exacerbated by the closure of the Lakeview coal fired power station in south Mississauga. The transmission configuration now serving Toronto is the weakest of any major financial centre in the OECD. The south Mississauga gas generator was intended to provide relief for the overstretched Manby transformer station, owned by the Crown utility Hydro One. About 15 months ago, a routine equipment failure at Manby caused one of the longest and most widespread blackouts for a large urban centre in North America since the August 2003 Northeast Blackout. I have argued elsewhere that the 2010 Manby blackout was Ontario’s first large green blackout, a charge green energy advocates have denounced.

Today’s Liberal power station electoral shuffle reveals the extent to which the Ontario Liberal Party sees itself as controlling Ontario’s electricity future. The Liberal vision is that our elected representatives should decide what types of power plants are built, where they are built, and when.

The National Post business section today provides a summary of comments from PC leader Tim Hudak proposing a diametrically opposed vision, or electoral sales pitch over the role of politics in governing our power system. “This is the difference between Dalton McGuinty and I. I don’t pick winners and losers.”


  1. This post fails to address the significance of the PC and NDP endorsement of the Liberal’s cancellation. I am reconsidering the thesis presented here but consistent with previous practice, I am leaving the post up in case anyone has linked to it.

  2. The one issue of note is that the PC and NDP didn’t play a role in the creation of the contract-you have to lay that all on the Liberal party. Nimbyism is OK when the seat is held by a Liberal but not OK if you live in rural Ontario where the other parties may hold sway!

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