In 2005 the Government of Ontario's Energy Ministry decided to open a new gas-fired power plant. After surveying potential sites, sections of land along the shore in Mississauga and Oakville were selected. Following five years of organised resistance, these two communities were able to change the government's mind. As a result, other communities that had been shortlisted were now reselected. Currently, there is discussion around finding a suitable location in the Greater Toronto Area.
I was listening to CBC's "Ontario Today" and I was dismayed at the discussion generated around this issue. The question seemed to be around where it could be moved and how it could be stopped. Essentially, ignoring the greater question of the our needs, both perceived and real, for electricity and what needs to be done to satisfy them.
The most significant problem with the discourse is around location. The community solidarity is impressive, but the way it is framed is interesting - it wasn't about saying no to building more plants, it was saying no to building a plant in a specific community. This notion of "not in my backyard" is problematic, as it means that some people deserve to live near a hazard while others, presumably those with less money, have to. This is obviously unacceptable, but it is a reality. Communities with lower incomes (often with less access to resources, less free time, less sympathy from the press, less skilled leaders etc) generally have much less ability to mobilise and keep hazards out.
So that leads to the next logical question: If we can't find a reasonable place for a plant, then how do we move forward? It makes sense that if nobody wants to take on the hazard, then the conversation should centre on conservation. As it stands, coal and gas plants (such as the proposed one in the GTA) are only designed to provide relief in the summer. The current logic behind the Ministry of the Environment's push for gas-fired plants is based on idea that in the summer demand for power peaks, so gas-fired plants are supposed to provide this extra seasonal supply. Ontario Power Generation, which supplies the province with electricity, relies on nuclear power for about 41 per cent of its energy, hydroelectric damns for about 23 per cent, and coal and gas for just less than 20 per cent. While the nuclear and hydroelectric plants run at roughly the same level continuously, coal and gas fired plants are designed to meet demand.
With this in mind, why don't we focus the question on the supply and demand of electricity? While there is much controversy around methods of generation such as nuclear, geothermal, and hydroelectric, there are virtually no real advocates of coal and gas fired plants. If this is the case, then perhaps the province's plan should rely on using wind and solar energy during peak demand in the summer. Both have shown significant growth in reliability and quality in the past decades, and both are affordable and ecological. Perhaps the best part of the pairing of wind and solar is that there generally at least one is always going to be harnessable.
Moreover, in the coming months residents of the GTA will hopefully come to realise that the power they use comes from somewhere, but only if they take the initiative to go online to their local supplier or to an excellent site called the International Energy Agency. While this may certainly spur movements to tell the government to find another place to get power, I would be far more pleased to see a growth in conversation about finding ways to be more responsible with our energy usage.
We all have a part to play in being smart about our energy consumption. There are plenty of great resources out there to help you find better ways to consume power. Conservation really isn't difficult either, as you will find if you check out this great link.