Fixing the disconnect: Better planning needed to address gaps in electricity supply and demand, expert says

Windsor no longer being in contention to host a $2.5-billion LG Chem plant due to a lack of electricity supply comes as no surprise to one researcher.

Windsor lost out on $2.5-billion plant due to lack of electricity, according to Invest WindsorEssex

High-voltage electricity wires and towers, viewed from below against a blue sky.
Five new transmission lines are in the works in southwestern Ontario at a cost of $1 billion. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

Windsor no longer being in contention to host a $2.5-billion LG Chem plant due to a lack of electricity supply comes as no surprise to one expert, who said adding additional capacity to the grid isn't cheap — nor is it quick.

Rupp Carriveau, director of the Environmental Energy Institute and engineering professor at the University of Windsor, said the organization has been studying the issue for nearly five years.

"Part of our purpose is to sort of try to look ahead, and try to wave flags to get attention [on] that things need attention," Carriveau said.

The lack of supply has come up in the greenhouse sector as operators have looked to expand.

"We've bumped up against these limits before," said Carriveau.

CBC News was unable to reach LG Chem for comment as of publication time, but according to Invest WindsorEssex CEO Stephen MacKenzie, Windsor is losing out on the plant because the region can't provide the amount of power needed.

The loss does not impact the $4.9-billion electric vehicle battery plant set to open 2024, which is a partnership between LG Energy Solution and automaker Stellantis, according to MacKenzie.

The LG Chem supply plant, he said, could have brought a further 1,000 to 1,500 jobs to the region.

The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), which oversees the power system in Ontario and plans for future energy needs, said it expects demand in southwestern Ontario to double over five years to about 2,000 megawatts.

"That's like adding a city the size of Hamilton to the grid," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"The speed and magnitude of forecasted growth in Southwest Ontario is unique. We've been working with local communities, businesses and industry partners to increase electricity capacity in the region while ensuring the grid remains reliable." 

5 new transmission lines being added

The province is spending $1 billion to add additional transmission infrastructure in southwestern Ontario but some of those projects aren't expected to be complete for another eight years.

Plans for five new transmission lines are in the works, including three that have been prioritized in the approval process through the Ontario Energy Board.

Stephen Crawford, parliamentary assistant to Ontario's Minister of Energy, announced five transmission line projects set to increase electricity supplies to Windsor-Essex amid growing demand, on April 4, 2022. (City of Windsor / Facebook)

One of those prioritized projects, a new line from Chatham to Lakeshore that will also come with a new switching station, is expected to boost capacity by 550 megawatts by the end of 2025, according to the IESO.

Building new central grid transmission is expensive, complicated work that can take years, Carriveau said. It's also a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation, as the demand has to be there before the infrastructure is built.

"In my view, the province has responded," Carriveau said. "Unfortunately, the time scales never match the market demand. So what this points to for me is that we need much more comprehensive planning, very careful surveys of the assets that we have."

Carriveau said one way to ease the burden is through industry using distributed energy resources — small-scale power generation through sources such as solar and wind.

"We need a better combination, I think, of centralized grid transmission, which we rely on as the backbone of our province and we will be for a long time, but the introduction of more distributed energy resources, where you sort of get this business of local power for local purposes," he said.

With files from Jason Viau