Energy Minister Chris Bentley announced Monday the Ontario Power Authority had secured an agreement with Greenfield South, the builders of the plant, to halt construction.
But how much the energy policy shift — announced publicly on Sept. 24 near the end of a tight provincial election race — will cost taxpayers is still unknown. Financial details are still being negotiated, a senior government source told the Star.
For weeks, the opposition has criticized the government for ongoing construction at the site even though the Liberals claimed to have killed the project. The Progressive Conservatives even set up a web cam to show daily progress on the plant.
“These things take awhile, they are enormously complicated,” Bentley said. “This is good news. This fulfills the commitment we made to the residents of Mississauga and Etobicoke.”
The plant is expected to be relocated elsewhere.
The controversial plant was being built in Mississauga East-Cooksville in the swing riding of Mississauga South, where polls indicated cabinet minister Charles Sousa was in a dead heat with a Tory challenger.
When the decision was made to scrap the plant in late September, both the PCs and the New Democrats accused the government of creating energy policy “on the fly” and seat-buying during the election campaign.
The Liberal plan worked. Sousa won his seat and the Liberals returned to power, but in a minority government.
“I think it is shocking. We don’t know how much it is going to cost to relocate it and how much the . . . delay has cost us,” said Tory MPP Vic Fedeli (Nippissing). “There are more unanswered questions today than answered.”
NDP MPP Peter Tabuns said “it gets awfully expensive for voters” if you are doing electricity planning based on whether or not you’re going to win seats.
This is a very expensive decision and power consumption in the province is dropping, he added.
“This government didn’t have to wait until a few days before the election to make a decision on this plant — they could have made a decision before the election went forward,” he said.
A gas plant is still needed in the booming area west of Toronto, Bentley said.
“They tell me you need a combination of sources and locations. You want some generating facility that is located in a central area that can be transmitted out and you also need some capacity closer to the major loads.”
But the government appears to be making energy policy up as they go along, said Tabuns.
He pointed to the sudden decision in October 2010 to pull the plug on a $1.2-billion gas-fired plant in Oakville, as well as the cancellation of the Mississauga project.
Bentley said the costs of cancelling the Oakville contract are still being negotiated.
Jan Carr, the former chief executive of the Ontario Power Authority, said the decision shows that important energy decisions are now all coming out of the government.
“The Ontario Power Authority is no longer independent,” he said. “This just underlines it.”
Carr said the government is getting too close to the power system.
“The wrong people are in charge of the wrong aspects (of power policy),” he said. “Government needs to be involved, but not to the extent that it is.”
David Butters, president of the Association of Power Producers of Ontario, said the treatment of the Mississauga power plant may give Ontario a reputation as a riskier place to invest.
Power companies wondering about bringing projects here may add a risk premium to their price to compensate for the possibility of late-stage interference, Butters said.
“I’ve not heard anybody say: I’m not going to invest in Ontario,” he said. “But they might ask more for the privilege, or might just decide: I’ll go and invest my money somewhere else.”
With files from John Spears