News

End of an era as Nanticoke stacks come down

The twin stacks at the Nanticoke Generating Station were dynamited at 11 a.m. Wednesday as part of a phased demolition of the former hydro plant. Each stack was 650 feet tall and had been landmarks on the Lake Erie shoreline for nearly 50 years. The stack at right was blasted first followed by the stack at left. The entire process of dropping them took about 30 seconds. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

The twin stacks at the Nanticoke Generating Station were dynamited at 11 a.m. Wednesday as part of a phased demolition of the former hydro plant. Each stack was 650 feet tall and had been landmarks on the Lake Erie shoreline for nearly 50 years. The stack at right was blasted first followed by the stack at left. The entire process of dropping them took about 30 seconds. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

NANTICOKE  - 

Twin landmarks along the Lake Erie shoreline were reduced to rubble Wednesday morning.

At 11 a.m., the east stack at the former Nanticoke Generating Station was dynamited.

Fifteen seconds later, the west stack met a similar fate. In the span of half a minute, the 650-foot stacks disappeared for good into an enormous plume of dust.

Some celebrated while others lamented the passing of an era.

The Liberal government at Queen’s Park set the stage for the demolition when it burned the last lump of coal in Nanticoke in 2013.

Unable to find an alternative use for the 4,000-megawatt facility, the Wynne Liberals decided to convert the property into a 44-megawatt solar farm.

Moments after the stacks crashed to the ground, the government congratulated itself on a successful demolition in a news release.

“At its peak, Nanticoke Generating Station was one of the largest air polluters in North America,” Glenn Thibeault, Ontario’s Minister of Energy, said. “Ontario’s elimination of coal for electricity generation remains the single largest climate-change initiative undertaken in North America and was the equivalent of taking up to 7 million cars off our roads.”

Overseeing the demolition was Ontario Power Generation engineer Joe Mateus.

In the minutes before the demolition, Mateus explained how the infrastructure of the stacks was removed and the re-inforcing ironwork severed in strategic locations. Each stack was fitted with 400 pounds of dynamite near the base. The demolition was planned so that the stacks fell inward on each other.

The demolition was originally scheduled to occur at 8:30 a.m. Around 6:30 a.m., the decision was made to perform the deed at 11 a.m. Weather data suggested the wind would be more favourable then.

“There will be dust – no doubt,” Mateus said. “But we want the dust to dissipate over the coal yard. We don’t want it to dissipate over the village.”

About 100 media, dignitaries and OPG officials were bused to the shipping dock south-east of the plant to watch the demolition. Among them was Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt.

Hewitt recalled how the plant provided 650 high-paying jobs and nearly $3 million a year in tax revenue. Hewitt said the province’s decision to proceed with a demolition represents a waste of public resources and the loss of an important public asset.

“This is bittersweet, for sure,” Hewitt said. “The way technology is advancing, I think we made a hasty, rash decision. I think this plant could’ve gone on to produce clean, reliable energy and continued to produce good jobs.

“Before long, we may find a way to produce energy from coal that is environmentally neutral.”

Hewitt suspects the decision to destroy NGS was rooted in politics and not in science or environmental stewardship.

Hewitt says Ontario has traded coal-fired power generation at 3.5 cents a kilowatt hour for “green” electricity from wind farms and solar installations that is costing about 13.5 cents a kilowatt hour.

With it has gone Ontario’s competitive advantage and any jobs that may have followed now that manufacturing in North America is on the rebound.

“We’re no longer competitive with what’s going on across the lake,” Hewitt said. “Jobs are heading south. This is not a portfolio that Liberals can be proud of. The management of the system has been atrocious. Power generation should never have been politicized. You and I will get to live with that from now on in our power bills.”

Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett also attended.

Afterward, Barrett recalled the sensation the plant’s announcement sent through the community in 1968. He remembers everyone being excited about the prospect of well-paying employment. Now, those jobs are gone.

“This is depressing,” Barrett said on the bus ride back to the Nanticoke Community Centre. “There were options here. What a waste.”

The coal yard at NGS was dismantled last year. The plant grounds today are littered with piles of twisted metal.

Plans are to recycle as much of the plant as possible. The stacks themselves will be crushed and converted into gravel. Rebar from the rubble will be re-smelted as new steel.

Next up is asbestos removal and the demolition of the boiler houses and turbine hall. Plans are to finish the job by the summer of 2020.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com