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[cdn-nucl-l] Experts fear probe will slow Pickering
Posted in the London Free Press on November 14, 2002 and at:
Experts fear probe will slow Pickering
Ontario Power Generation and the province blame each other for costly
By STEVE ERWIN, CP
TORONTO -- A government investigation into costly delays in restarting
several nuclear reactors at Pickering -- shutdowns that helped create a
supply crunch and soaring power prices -- will offer little more than
finger-pointing, critics said yesterday.
The inquiry will further delay work on the project, which would bring
about 2,000 megawatts of power back into the province's supply -- about
eight per cent of what's needed at peak demand times, an electricity
"By holding an inquiry, you're essentially distracting the attention of
management and the other people who are involved with the actual work
and arguably, you're delaying the return-to-service date as a result,"
said Jan Carr, with Barker Dunn and Rossi in Toronto.
"To me, the important thing would not be to hold an inquiry, but to get
the job done."
Ontario Energy Minister John Baird will release details in the next few
days on the province's plans for an investigation into delays restoring
power at the Pickering A station east of Toronto, said spokesperson Dan
It will also find out why total costs to retrofit four nuclear reactors
at the station -- out of service since 1997 -- are estimated at $2.5
billion, more than twice the original budget estimate.
Miles said progress reports on the revamp gave the provincial government
a "gross underestimation" of the project's scope and cost.
The station was supposed to be back online this year, when rising air
conditioner use helped create shortages and forced Ontario to import
electricity to meet demand. Combined with electricity market
deregulation that began May 1, the shortages produced soaring prices,
creating a backlash against the government.
Last month, Ontario Power Generation -- the Crown-owned company that
owns the Pickering plant -- announced a third major delay of the
restart. It said one of the four A units would reach the "commissioning"
stage in the first quarter of 2003, a testing process which could take
one to three months.
The remaining three units are to be reassessed once the first unit is
OPG spokesperson John Earl said the power producer won't comment on the
proposed investigation, announced Monday as part of a broad plan by
Ontario's Conservative government to cap electricity prices, promote
alternative energy and attract more private power producers to the
Last month, OPG chief executive Ron Osborne said the delays and higher
expenses were from "overly optimistic" early budgets, too much
outsourcing of project management and lengthy environmental assessments
that create higher salary and other costs.
That's all an inquiry would reveal, said Jonathan Dickman-Wilkes, an
analyst at Navigant Consulting in Toronto.
"It's kind of more of a finger-pointing exercise than anything else,"
Dickman-Wilkes said, noting it's unfair to suggest retrofitting the
decades-old stations is an easy task.
"This is 1970s technology," he said.
This week, Premier Ernie Eves's government blamed rising prices partly
on Ontario Power Generation's failure to get the nuclear plants running
again. OPG, the electricity-producing successor to former Ontario Hydro,
accounts for nearly three-quarters of electricity generated in Ontario.
Others blame the provincial government for not being more directly
involved in the Pickering project.
"The government is blaming everybody but themselves and they are
responsible for putting this (market) together," said Arthur Dickinson,
president of the Association of Major Power Consumers in Ontario.
Private power producers have said confusion over when the huge reactors
would come back online left them unable to predict whether it would be
worth it to build new plants in Ontario.
Dickinson said the May 1 opening of Ontario's energy market to
competition should have been held off until the Pickering A reactors
were back on stream.
"Why were they asleep at the switch?" he said of the government. "It's
not good enough to say, 'That's not what we were told.'
"When the delay was repeated, why didn't they get more interested then?"