Greens have never supported any Portlands power plant

I’ve been approached by several people recently with stories about what Peter Tabuns said at the all-candidates debate on Tuesday night.  While I wasn’t there to hear exactly what was said, it is clear that something he said gave people the impression that the Greens supported a power plant on the Portlands.  This impression is false.

My involvement with this issue began shortly after the 2005/2006 federal election, when I became aware (from Peter, and I thank him for that) that the Province was resurrecting plans to build a 550 MW natural gas fired power plant on the Portlands to deal with rising demand in Toronto.  I was furious.  The climate doesn’t care if demand is rising.  The climate only responds to how much we burn.  So a sane solution to rising demand cannot be to burn more carbon.

During the 2006 provincial by-election in Toronto-Danforth, I went through the trouble of developing A Realistic Energy Plan for Toronto that would not require any new power plant on the Portlands.  It is a realistic plan because it takes into account the threat of global warming, which no other existing plan does.  It is a realistic plan because it is more economical than building a power plant which burns an expensive fuel that will only become more expensive with time.  It is realistic because it is appropriately scaled for the problem identified.  It is realistic because it takes into account health and environmental concerns as well as energy needs.  This plan was endorsed by the Toronto-Danforth Federal Green Party executive, by the GPO provincial candidate of the time, Paul Charbonneau, and by many other prominent Green Party supporters, including GPC leader Elizabeth May, GPC former leader Jim Harris and GPO leader Frank de Jong.

Most NDP representatives (Councillors Paula Fletcher and Sandra Bussin, former MPP Marilyn Churley, and federal NDP leader Jack Layton, our local MP) instead supported the 10-Point Port Lands “Green” Energy Plan that Peter Tabuns drafted which includes a power plant as point 9.  The power plant stipulated in Peter Tabuns’s plan was to cogenerate to a district energy system, was to be a maximum of 250 MW and was to be located within the Hearn.

Through my discussions with one of my co-authors, engineer Greg Allen who had worked on Deep Lake Water Cooling, the Toronto wind turbine and other sane developments, I knew that cogeneration on the Portlands was impossible at this scale.  Cogeneration requires a heat recipient to absorb enormous amounts of heat.  The heat recipient that Peter Tabuns envisioned was Enwave District Energy in downtown Toronto (which still would have used only a quarter of the heat from Peter’s proposed plant).  Building the pipes to carry the heat to Enwave under the Don River and across subway tunnels would be an $80 million project.  Converting heat to cold (a very inefficient process) would be an added expense.  And since the need for electricity peaks during the hottest summer days in Toronto, it is for cooling that this heat would have to be used.  Yes, you heard that right.  Peter had a plan to cool the downtown core with extra heat from a power plant in our Portlands.  What Peter seemed unaware of is that this idea had already been explored and costed out several times and was deemed to be ridiculously uneconomical.  So I was confident that the plant Peter proposed in his 10-point plan was a pipe dream that could never exist in reality.

It also seemed to me to be political suicide to propose that we needed a different plant.  If you assume that we need to burn more carbon, the voters will tune out to the specific technical details about which plant is better.  So I found it puzzling that Peter had inserted it into his plan, which already included enough efficiency measures, renewable generation and other good and sensible ideas to address the required power needs.

Next, Toronto Hydro put in a proposal to build an alternative to the Portlands power plant.  This proposal was greater than 250 MW, beginning at 291 MW and expandable to 582 MW.  It also did not have an associated heat user.  So it did not fit Peter’s criteria and I expected him to denounce the plan.  The only criteria it fit was the location within the Hearn.  Instead, Peter said the Toronto Hydro proposal should be evaluated and Paula Fletcher gave it her ringing endorsement, repeatedly latching onto the Hearn location as a factor which made this plant okay.

The Toronto Hydro proposal was particularly problematic because it was less efficient than the Portlands Energy Centre (PEC) proposed by the Province.  Even though the wattage it produced in its initial stage was lower than the PEC, it burned almost as much natural gas to do so. (As a technical aside, if we assume 33% efficiency in the Toronto Hydro simple cycle plant and 55% efficiency for PEC, the TH proposal would have burned 96% of the natural gas of the PEC to produce just 53% of the electricity.)  And it had significant expansion potential.  So why did the NDP politicians either support it or refuse to criticize it?

Because we, the residents of Toronto-Danforth, got caught between two giant machines, the Liberal Party in power provincially, and the NDP in power in the city.  Mayor Miller wanted to build the power plant as a partnership through Toronto Hydro, which is owned by the city.  That way, the profits from selling energy we didn’t really need would be collected by the city.  Premier McGuinty preferred to build a power plant through Ontario Power Generation (OPG) so that the Province could collect the profits.  With only the tiny Green Party screaming as loud as we could “We don’t need it at all!”, the casualties were our health, our electricity system, our Portlands, our community, and truth.

I should point out that neither the PEC nor the Toronto Hydro plant wanted to undergo a full Environmental Assessment, though both claimed to be willing to.  The EA process was a Harris-era casualty which I could talk about at length and maybe will one day.  Another feature common to the two plants was the public-private partnership aspect.  This feature allows the enterprises to use public funds, yet to shield themselves from public scrutiny or accountability.  We can’t look into the books of a private company, but apparently we can give them hundreds of millions of public dollars.  Apparently we can also shield private companies from risk by guaranteeing profit through the public purse.  It is a process that beautifully blends the worst of both worlds in one toxic, corrupt mixture.

I have invited Peter Tabuns to correct any inaccuracies above.

2 responses to “Greens have never supported any Portlands power plant”

  1. Peter Tabuns writes:


    I need to further review my notes at home but I wanted to make these first initial points in response to your blog. I would appreciate it if you would post them.

    1) I have never said that the Greens supported a “portlands energy centre”. You and I were, however, both at the open house for Toronto Hydro’s proposed cogeneration facility for the Cascades Paper Plant. During this event at the South Riverdale Community Health Centre you and I both agreed that a cogen facility utilizing waste heat from Cascades made sense. I think using waste heat from existing industrial facilities to provide heat at very high levels of efficiency still makes sense. Such facilities are a key part of the recently released “Renewable is Doable” report from Pembina Institute and World Wildlife Fund.

    2) The Green Energy Plan that I drafted was done in partnership with Keith Stewart, then climate campaigner at Toronto Environmental Alliance, and Melinda Zytaruk and Brent Kopperson from the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association.

    3) We knew our plan was general and so did not claim great precision. Based on available evidence we decided that PEC could not be justified. Subsequently, City of Toronto analysis showed that in fact our assessment of upper end potential of efficiency and renewables for avoiding the plant was justified.

    4) If a plant had been proposed that was properly sized to a local heat load resulting in efficiencies in the 85% range and displacing fuel use at all local industries, like the sewage treatment plant, Lever’s and Cascades then I would have considered reviewing it through an environmental assessment. The alternative bid to PEC from the Constellation group didn’t fit those criteria and I didn’t support it. I made that clear during the election campaign and the Liberals did their best to paint things in a different light.

    I will be back to you with other comments but I wanted to at least send a few points to you.


  2. Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu writes:

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the clarifications.

    I did support the Cascades Paper Company proposal. Like you, I support true cogen from existing industrial heat users, especially if they can economically run a redundant boiler and cogenerate only on peak, like Cascades. Cascades would have produced 30 MW and is by far the biggest heat user on the Portlands.

    I do think that potential for cogen is vastly overrated. It usually burns additional fossil fuel. It often depends on round-the-clock operation. Opportunities for it are tiny when we need it most, which in Ontario is on blistering hot summer days. I’m wary of burning additional fossil fuels for baseload power. And then there is the problem of declining natural gas reserves. There is nowhere close to 250 MW worth of cogen potential anywhere near the Portlands.

    I’m afraid that during the election campaign, I didn’t feel that your lack of support for the Toronto Hydro/Constellation proposal translated into clearly stated opposition. It is my feeling that this lack of clarity, coupled with your stated proposal for another plant as the 9th point of your plan, enabled Ben Chin to attack your credibility and led to the reduced NDP vote in that election. I felt then, as I do now, that the stronger position would have been to advocate for no plant all along.



Leave a comment

To weed out spam, your comment will not appear right away.