Atikokan coal-fired plant gets reprieve

The provincial government has reversed its decision to close all coal-fired electricity plants in Ontario, meaning the Atikokan generating station will continue operating for now.
“It’s great news. It’s very uplifting for the community,” said Mayor Dennis Brown. “The future is looking much better for Atikokan.”
The Ministry of Energy announced its decision last Tuesday, citing recommendations from the Independent Electricity System Operator calling for 2,500-3,000 megawatts of additional capacity to maintain system reliability in the province.
“Further delays will be necessary in the government’s plan to replace coal-fired generation completely with cleaner sources of energy,” the ministry said in a press release last week.
“We remain committed to replacing coal-fired generation in Ontario,” Energy minister Dwight Duncan stressed.
Although the province still hopes to double the amount of electricity drawn from renewable sources by 2025, Mayor Brown said he’s been told the AGS will remain open “indefinitely.”
“Hopefully that means the life of the plant, probably another 20-25 years,” he said.
“We heard rumours during the last couple of weeks that they [the government] were re-thinking it because of the need for electricity, especially in the summertime,” he added.
In related news, plans will go ahead for the promised bio-energy research facility to be associated with the Atikokan station—meaning the town could end up gaining jobs rather than losing them.
Mayor Brown noted the good news extends beyond town limits. “It’s great news for all Northwestern Ontario,” he enthused.
The AGS, for instance, is tied in to the issue of regional electricity pricing, Mayor Brown explained.
The Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association asked the province to look into regional pricing some months ago—and the government is considering it.
“By keeping the coal-fired plants going, there’s a better chance of doing that. This is great news,” Mayor Brown said.
Regional pricing will reduce prices in the north—where sources of electricity are abundant—which, in turn, will benefit the forest industry.
“If we can get our energy costs down . . . the mills will be able to do a lot better,” Mayor Brown noted.
The provincial government also is looking into “options for cost-effective measures to reduce air emissions from coal-fired generation,” it said in its release.
The province announced its plan to close all coal-fired plants last June. The AGS was scheduled to close by the end of 2007, when the Thunder Bay GS was to be converted to gas-fired generation.
Those latter plans also have been put on hold.
The closure of the AGS would have meant a loss of 90 jobs, $7 million in wages, and more than $3 million in taxes to the town of Atikokan.
Mayor Brown noted he had been in talks with 14 ministries since the closure was first announced last year “to mitigate the effects of the closure of the plant.”
Projects suggested during those discussions also could be put into action in the near future, lending further help to Atikokan’s economy.