Power plant closed, but back door open

The employee count at Lambton Generating Station will be down to just 50 by the end of this week.

Yet there’s still a possibility two of the power plant’s units could be resurrected one day using natural gas or biomass as fuel.

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) says two of Lambton’s four units are being shut down in such a way they can be restarted in future.

The other two were taken out of service permanently, plant manager Phil Stevens told St. Clair Township council recently.

“OPG’s intention is to maintain assets for possible conversion,” he said. “I imagine that it will be re-evaluated on a yearly basis.”

For the next several years a “caretaking” staff of 22 will remain at the power plant on the St. Clair River.

“By 2017, the Ministry of Energy will have a good feel for demand for energy in the province,” Stevens said. “It will depend on how the economy does and what demand is there. If there’s a shortage of power, conversion may take place.”

LGS employed 400 people until Ontario decided to stop burning coal for health and environmental reasons. The first two units stopped production in 2010 and layoffs or relocations of staff began.

“Units one and two were not preserved,” said Steve Repergel, corporate relations officer with OPG. “They are primarily for spare parts.”

In September 2013, the last of the site’s coal was used and units three and four fell silent.  But their mothballing can be fairly easily reversed with conversion, Repergel said.

“Units three and four will continue to be registered with ISO … so we won’t have to go through the whole licensing process,” he told council.

A restart could be done “relatively cheaply” and take about two years, Stevens said.

Coun. Jim DeGurse asked if LGS could ever be converted to nuclear power.

“Your only two options are natural gas or biomass way down the road,” said Repergel. “But that’s entirely up to the Minister of Energy and the province.  They call the shots.”

Mayor Steve Arnold lamented the loss of jobs and tax assessment.

“This municipality is being beaten up badly,” he said, explaining he and his council have repeatedly asked government officials in Toronto about long-term plans for the site, with no answers.

“It’s a valuable site,” Arnold said. “We want to know when the buildings and stacks will be removed but it sounds like removal isn’t going to take place because ‘what if…’.”