Fguring out how Ontario Power Authority directors learned to stop worrying and love nuclear power may be as simple as following the money.
Last month, the body established by Premier Dalton McGuinty to look at Ontario's energy needs released a report proposing shelling out some $35 billion for rehab of and additions to Ontario's nuclear fleet over the next 20 years. When McGuinty pledged to follow the Authority's nuclear recommendations during a Niagara Falls speech in September, he said the OPA was created to "give us its very best advice based on the facts, not the politics." It's not clear what facts this claim is based on.
Nowhere on the Authority's board is there a person with knowledge of the energy efficiency side of the industry, or who has the inside track on how farmers can sell biomass energy converted from crop wastes.
Nor is there an economic planner who can assess the best way to use utility construction dollars to generate what energy planners call "distributed benefits" such as permanent jobs in depressed communities.
There's no authoritative person to remind nuclear bean counters to add $20 billion onto the $14 billion already owing to cover future costs of toxic waste disposal, or another potential $20 billion to cover the costs of increased insurance based on the risk that terrorists might be tempted to blow up neighbourhood reactors.
And there's not one person representing utility users, homeowners or tenants, the people who'll be picking up the tab for the next 20 years.
Even making an appearance before the Ontario public takes too much effort for the board members who live out of province. Charles Bayless, formerly a top executive of utilities in Arizona and Illinois, is now president of a relatively small trades and technology school, the West Virginia University Institute of Technology.
The OPA's ostensible environmental specialist, Louise Comeau, works out of BC. Apparently, there are no Ontario residents qualified to represent the point of view of either greens or nuclear academics and mad scientists.
The key to understanding the power elite behind nuclear power, including those ensconced at the OPA, is knowing what side of their bread gets the butter. Whatever is said about the economics of nuclear power, nuke promoters are almost always on the supply side of the industry. We're talking here about the moneylenders, construction contractors, equipment manufacturers, engineers, consultants and academics who fatten on the industry's notoriously lumpy expenditure pattern.
In this biz, rounding and other errors are easy to hide in multi-billion-dollar construction budgets. The ledger looks much less appealing for investors who buy the plant and try to run it for a profit, which is why taxpayer-funded public utilities usually end up running the plants and paying off their black hole of debt. It's probably not coincidental that many of these nuclear public utilities are creatures of dictatorial and militaristic regimes.
A review of OPA staff and directors confirms this bias in the way the industry's profit centre works. The OPA's CEO, Jan Carr, is a senior engineer with three decades' experience with energy consulting firms, the Ontario Energy Board and the Toronto Board of Trade electricity task force.
He's what's called a supply-sider, and in 2002 prophesied that Toronto could be to the electrical industry "what Houston is to the oil and gas sector." Such highly charged visions lend themselves more readily to nuclear megaprojects than to insulated attics or solar PVs on rooftops.
They also lead to a ready understanding of political connections, since government regulations and subsidies make or break mega-scaled energy companies. Carr is frequently identified as a Liberal fundraiser owing in part to his role co-hosting a $350-a-plate energy sector reception in 2001 for then-opposition leader Dalton McGuinty.
The industry itself is promoted by Canadian Nuclear Association president Murray Elston, a former Ontario Liberal MPP and cabinet minister. David MacNaughton, McGuinty's former principal secretary, lobbies for Atomic Energy of Canada, and the preem's ex-director of issues management and legislative affairs, Bob Lopinski, is a paid lobbyist for Bruce Power.
Further testimony to the close links between private sector firms and governments is John Beck, chair of the OPA's governance committee. The long-time chair and CEO of Aecon Group, Canada's largest publicly traded construction and infrastructure company, Beck has been at the centre of such megaprojects as Highway 407, Ontario's first toll freeway.
Beck has shrewdly noted that "privatization' is a U.S. term that only refers to one end of the spectrum of government-business relations.
But the big deals go down under the rubric of what's called PPP, or private- public partnerships. Being on the OPA, it may well be, is what facilitation of PPP is all about. That's what upsets Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton, who's crusading to keep Ontario electricity enviro-friendly as well as in public hands.
Beck's company was lobbying for Ontario energy contracts, Hampton noted in a media release this month that asked, "How can the CEO of a company with such a vested interest in the expansion of nuclear power qualify as an independent, impartial member of an organization charting Ontario's energy future?"
To cynics, former Ontario Liberal party leader Lyn McLeod, trained as a psychologist and with no direct experience in the electrical industry, may appear to be a political appointment. However, she's the first chancellor of the Oshawa-based University of Ontario Institute of Technology, which calls itself Canada's first laptop university, churning out graduates to work in the nearby nuclear industry.
Support for nukes from such centres of higher education, another expression of PPP subsidies that grease the industry's skids, has been standard throughout the industry's history.
The OPA's bias toward producers rather than users or consumers is typical of Canadian management bodies. Ministries of food are dominated by farmers and processors, ministries of health by doctors and hospitals, ministries of transportation by carmakers and highway builders, ministries of tourism by tour operators, and ministries of energy by power producers.
Consumers are represented by pathetically funded ministries of consumer affairs, and the breathers of air and drinkers of water are on their own.
That's why the first round of any fight about nuclear power always goes to the industry. There are many more rounds to go.