Atikokan CEO responds to editorial
Re: Article on coal as option
I have read with interest your article on coal as the long-term option. I commend you on this article but did want to make a couple of points to put Ontario in perspective. Atikokan is in what you would describe as North Western Ontario, we think of it as western, as we are probably closer to the US border than you are].We are proud to have a 200 Mw plant in our community and have been working hard for the last 5 or 6 years to convince government that it is a good thing. It is one of our largest employers, and 50% of our tax base.
As you referred to the recent 27,000 Mw demand in Ontario, our load [Wawa to Manitoba border would be about 700 Mw].
We could generate about 1400 Mw. The east west tie line [Wawa to southern Ontario] can handle about 300 Mw, but will take a 30% line loss. When the south is short of power, there is no transmission to bring the North Dakota coal power through Manitoba, across our area and south to your area. The best deliverable power would be 210 Mw.
You may think I am confused when I refer to North Dakota coal power. Manitoba has sold most of its hydroelectric power to North Dakota and Minnesota. Pick a price for that power and you will probably find some of the old contracts at 2 cents and range to 5 cents. The great deal touted by Minister Cansfield in her purchase from Manitoba was silent on the value. Experts in the industry pegged the 400 Mw at 9 or 10 cents, and it was never disputed by the Minister. It would appear probable that North Dakota would still import its less costly Manitoba energy for its industry, while Manitoba could purchase power [or deliver less and pay the difference to North Dakota], and resell to Ontario. The fact that Ontario cannot wheel a lot of power to Southern Ontario never really comes to light. The result is still that by importing anything from Manitoba probably increases North American coal generation. North Dakota has low sulphur coal, so it is good power, but should not be disguised as power from flooded first nations land.
It is also interesting to note that Ontario is the only jurisdiction on the planet that had actually contemplated off coal. We are almost out of natural gas, so homes and businesses could be in difficulty. Any thoughts on how to make fertilizer for our agricultural community without methane?
I certainly do not advocate environmental destruction, but one needs to accept that technology exists today to mitigate environmental issues from coal or natural gas easier than from flooded lands.
We are in the midst of setting guidelines for a research facility into biomass in Atikokan, and that could spin off other knowledge. One could even argue that if Ontario was concerned for the global climate, that it is presented with a golden opportunity. We should be enhancing various clean coal technologies and exporting that knowledge and expertise to Asia and India to ensure that their coal generators are actually burning as clean as possible. It seems interesting that the premier of a province would hold the portfolio of innovation and technology, visit China on a tobacco sales trip, and condemn their coal, therefore strengthen his resolve to destroy the Ontario economy.
Our politicians seem to have difficulty with both physics and chemistry. A Saskatchewan Quebec tie line may look like a band-aid to hold the country together, and can create some academic debate, but physics will come to play with line loss. If we are actually on a conservation and environmental kick, does it make sense to utilize 30 or so percent of generated power to overcome line loss? It would be a different thought, but if
folks in our area played in our physical market [sold to Minnesota and Manitoba], it may even free up Iowa power for southern Ontario. Probably a bad thing to allow common sense or economics to interfere with foolproof political decision.
It may also be of interest to note that before this government's term, our electrical load peaked at just under 1100 megawatts. That of course was before the demise of the forest industry, and the continued demise of the provincial economy. If conservation is the answer, and our load is at about 55% of its normal load [industry closure], why has the price not dropped? Our cost to produce coal power is 3.2 to 3.5 cents per kwh.
If you have made it this far, I thank you. I feel better for my rant.
Wilf Thorburn CEO / Sec / Treas Atikokan Hydro Inc