Ontario's Auditor General report slams use of Thunder Bay, Atikokan generating stations

Ontario's Auditor General report says it costs $1600 per megawatt to produce electricity from the Thunder Bay generating station, which is 25 times the cost of generating power from other biomass plants in Ontario.

Report says operating two plants not cost effective

Ontario Power Generation's Thunder Bay Generating Station on Mission Island started to burn biomass after a conversion in 2014.

Ontario's Auditor General report says it costs $1600 per megawatt to produce electricity from the Thunder Bay generating station, which is 25 times the cost of generating power from other biomass plants in Ontario.

The figures come from the latest Auditor General's report, released Wednesday, which said the use of the Thunder Bay and Atikokan, Ont., generating stations is not cost efficient.

The plants have a combined output of 155,000 megawatt hours per year. But, the demand for electricity in northwestern Ontario is low, meaning the plants only run for a fraction of the year.
Thunder Bay city councillor and co-chair of the Common Voice Northwest Energy Task Force Iain Angus says the Auditor General's report is a 'disservice' to the Thunder Bay and Atikokan OPG generating stations.

It's not about the current demand for electricity, but the anticipated demand, when more industry and mines are operating in the region, said Iain Angus, the co-chair of the Common Voice Northwest Energy Task Force.

"By 2018, when we predict the biggest demand will hit, we will be ready to make that plant run. In the meantime, you've got to protect the staff," he said.

Angus said if the plant was to shut down completely in Thunder Bay, skilled employees would leave the city to find work elsewhere.

Even though the Thunder Bay generating station is predicted to operate for only five days a year, the proof that biomass can be successfully burned in the city is worth the cost, Angus said.

Atikokan plant to operate 29 days per year

The forecast for the Ontario Power Generation plant in Atikokan is to operate for about 29 days of every year.

"That plant was required for system stability this year, which the planners said would never happen," said Angus, adding that the facility has used up the majority of the wood pellets it burns to create electricity.

"Atikokan has run a decent amount of time this year. I think they've used two thirds of their 90,000 tonnes," he said.

He said the two plants will also create many economic opportunities for wood pellet producers.

Angus said once the two generating stations are producing more electricity, five to six factories may be needed to produce enough wood pellets.

He said each of those factories may require up to 100 employees.

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