Something about being told what to do makes even a full-grown adult feel like breaking curfew. So when Premier Dalton McGuinty wagged his finger in Toronto's face about a week and a half ago, saying we'd be getting a gas-fired power plant on our waterfront whether we like it or not, east-end politicians and activists did what they do best and geared up for a fight.
The mere mention of the revival of a port lands gas plant is enough to pack about 150 residents into the aisles of a Beaches rec centre Tuesday night, February 7. The community fought this 550-megawatt plant before, and little has changed since the proposal was last ditched in 2004. A full environmental assessment still hasn't been done on the facility, which will dump chlorinated hot water into the lake instead of capturing its steam to heat downtown buildings.
But activists, residents and politicians are here not just to galvanize the troops but also to flesh out the alternatives. Namely, a 10-point green energy plan [see box] developed by a panel of experts commissioned last fall by area politicians including Sandra Bussin, Paula Fletcher, Jack Layton and former Toronto-Danforth MPP Marilyn Churley.
Everyone's careful to emphasize that there's nothing "not in my backyard" about this fight. "We're not NIMBYs, we're waterfront guardians, and we like to have solutions from our future, not from our past," says Councillor Fletcher before the meeting. "And that 550-megawatt plant is a solution from our past."
Mayor David Miller agrees. "This isn't [NIMBYism]," he tells NOW in a phone interview. "The opposition is from environmentalists who know that for our economy to be sustainable we have to do much more conservation and demand management."
The mayor backs the direction of the plan, saying, "The opponents are offering realistic solutions. They're being extremely responsible.'
Indeed, advocates of the green plan say they can not only meet the demand for 250 megawatts the province says Toronto needs to avoid brownouts by 2008, but they can quite easily surpass that (and 2010 targets of 500 megawatts). They're pushing conservation, demand management and, yes, a gas-fired plant in the port lands. But the one they envision would be half the size proposed by OPG and TransCanada, inside rather than beside the old Hearn station, and doubly efficient, capturing steam heat through co-generation.
"If we can use gas in ways that are as efficient as possible, that would help mitigate the need to build from scratch a huge plant," says panellist Melinda Zytaruk of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association.
Not everyone in Tuesday's crowd at S.H. Armstrong Centre was pleased with the proposed smaller plant; many stood up to argue it shouldn't be in the green plan at all. But this time around, you get the feeling that activists are playing by the province's ground rules. Not only are they accepting a gas plant, albeit conditionally, but they're also going along with the province's "you'd better build it or there'll be brownouts" numbers.
As Zytaruk points out, "There's some concern that [the province is] overestimating the energy needs of the future. But what we've done here is not argue with that amount.'
Also, the green plan's numbers add up to well over 1,000 megawatts, but co-panellist and former executive director of Greenpeace Peter Tabuns says they'd prefer to de-emphasize their figures.
"We know there'll always be things that won't come in on time and things that won't materialize, so we cut our number in half and it was still adequate to say that whatever they put forward should be no bigger than [250 megawatts]."
Plus, at the forecast million dollars a megawatt it'll take to build the OPG's proposed Portlands Energy Centre, Tabuns says, "it would take about $240 million to deliver 240 megawatts by 2008, and Toronto Hydro is spending $40 million for a demand reduction of 240 megawatts. Which do you think is more cost effective?"
So why is the province steam-rolling ahead with the proposal? Well, despite the premier's statements, the Ministry of Energy now insists it's not. Ministry spokeperson Ted Gruetzner tells NOW, "There are a number of options. I think you have to get your mind out of the port lands.'
As to whether the east-end green plan is one of the options on the table, Gruetzner says, "We're not dismissing it.' He says the province's final decision will be be made public next week.
Makes you wonder if the flap has forced a retreat. But Councillor Bussin tells NOW about a very different closed-door discussion she and Councillor Fletcher had with Energy Minister Donna Cansfield, during which Cansfield said the full-sized port lands plant was moving ahead and she had zero interest in a half-sized plant. Bussin called any counterindicating PR blab a diversion.
Mark Winfield of the Pembina Institute isn't surprised by the double-speak. "For all the talk about conservation culture, the premier said he doesn't believe conservation and renewables can really deliver. That explains a lot.' It certainly explains Pembina stats showing that the ratio of provincial dollars committed to energy supply versus energy conservation is 64 to 1.
Whatever happens, Zytaruk says, Toronto will no doubt be a litmus test for bigger energy battles, including the looming showdown over nuclear expansion. "It's a fundamental question about what direction we want to take our electricity sector in and how we want to design our communities in the future."
THE GREENer way to go . . .
Dalton McGuinty is pushing Portlands Energy plant, saying we need 500 megawatts by 2010 - but here's an earth-friendly plan that will give us far more.
New plant in the port lands - should use co-generation to produce no more than 250 megawatts. ADDED: 250 MW
Cut energy use - in government and non-government buildings: LED exit lights, lighting retrofits, hooking into Deep Lake Water Cooling. SAVINGS: 170 MW
Expand Deep Lake Water Cooling - turn existing district energy systems like Regent Park heating facility into co-gen (natural-gas-fired electricity with steam captured for heat). SAVINGS: 300 MW
Expand Toronto Hydro program - to convert standby generators in big buildings to natural gas, and eventually co-gen. Converted generators can supply energy to grid in peak times. SAVINGS: 220 MW
Invest in renewable energy - focusing on community-based solar energy, solar hot water and wind projects. Toronto Hydro is currently testing winds off the Scarborough Bluffs for a 60-MW wind project. SAVINGS: 60 MW
Use the natural gas burned to dry sewage sludge at Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant to make electricity at the same time. (Methane from sludge could also be captured for energy). SAVINGS: 3 to 6 MW
GRAND TOTAL SAVINGS: 1,000+ MW
And here's the rest of the plan for even more savings:
Implement more energy-efficient building codes - promoting ground-source heat pumps for new buildings.
Invest in cutting household energy use - develop a Toronto Hydro loan program for residents for renewable and high-efficiency home improvements.
Carry out large-scale low-income housing energy retrofits - Toronto Hydro is giving $1.6 million in incentives to replace 23,000 old appliances with Energy Star models and lighting retrofits, saving 10 MW.
Cut summer "heat island effect" through tree plantings, green roofs, light-coloured paving. Green roofs on just 8 per cent of buildings could yield energy savings of $34 million. The city just adopted a new green roof policy to cover up to 75 per cent of city-owned roofs.