Cancelled Oakville gas plant to be moved to Napanee
Energy Minister Chris Bentley. (QMI Agency files)
Energy Minister Chris Bentley pulled a $40-million rabbit out of his hat Monday, announcing a surprise deal with TransCanada Energy to move an unpopular gas plant to Eastern Ontario.
But while Bentley’s sleight of hand took the spotlight off an opposition victory in forcing the humiliating release of 36,000 pages of potentially embarrassing government emails, he couldn’t make a looming contempt of parliament motion disappear.
“I am pleased to advise the House that agreements have been reached which will result in the relocation of the Oakville gas plant to the Lennox facility in eastern Ontario,” Bentley said during Question Period.
“The unrecoverable costs from that are $40 million.”
The Liberal government killed the Oakville plant in 2010 and another in Mississauga in the midst of the 2011 election after residents bitterly complained. Opposition parties say the moves — costing at least $230 million — were naked efforts to protect nearby Liberal seats and demanded government records related to the decisions be released.
Bentley had resisted, saying doing so would make any settlement with TCE more expensive and difficult, but was ordered to do so regardless by Speaker Dave Levac.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak refused to back away from his party’s contempt motion set for Tuesday despite the papers coming out.
“Dalton McGuinty decided to cancel gas plants at the last minute to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars ... to try to save Liberal seats,” Hudak said. “Taxpayers want to know what the truth is, who made the decision, how much it’s going to cost us and why. And they also want to send a signal that it should happen never again.”
The $40-million cost for compensating TCE will not include $210 million the Ontario Power Authority will pay the firm for gas turbines meant for Oakville and now set for a new 900-megawatt plant near Ontario Power Generation’s Lennox site.
Bentley said OPA will recover the cost of the turbines by paying TCE less for the power it generates.
The gas plant papers themselves reveal the chaotic scramble of bureaucrats trying to deal with the gas plants’ cancellation and the dire threat of a $1-billion lawsuit.
They reveal considerable tension between the ministry of energy and the OPA, as the agency pushed back against difficult marching orders it was getting, and the uncomfortable position Bentley — who was not minister when the plants were cancelled — was in.
The papers also show the decision to scrap the plants had nothing to do with running a power system and everything to do with political considerations.
“In essence they (TCE lawyers) confirmed the government cancelled the contract and communicated that fact to TransCanada before the Minister of Energy was advised,” one government lawyer wrote of Oakville.
And Bentley himself drafted a letter to OPA boss Colin Anderson about Mississauga saying, “in light of the strong and persistent opposition to the plant, the government supports ... seeking to stop construction of the gas plant at its current location.”