The Hon. Todd Smith: Ontario's Energy Advantage
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28 January, 2022 The Hon. Todd Smith: Ontario's Energy Advantage
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28 Jan 2022
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January 2022
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January 28, 2022

The Empire Club of Canada Presents

The Hon. Todd Smith: Ontario's Energy Advantage

Chairman: Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada; Vice-President, External Affairs & Professional Learning, Humber College

Distinguished Guest Speakers
The Hon. Todd Smith, Minister of Energy, Legislative Assembly of Ontario
Joseph Mancinelli, International Vice-President & Regional Manager of Central and Eastern Canada, LiUNA
James Scongack, Chief Development Officer & Executive Vice-President Operational Services, Bruce Power

Introduction
It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau. Literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.

It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.

Welcome Address by Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon fellow directors, past presidents, members, and guests. Welcome to the 118th season of the Empire Club of Canada. My name is Kelly Jackson. I am the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club of Canada, and Vice-President, External Affairs and Professional Learning at Humber College. I also am your host for today's event, with the Honourable Todd Smith, Ontario's Minister of Energy.

I'd like to begin this afternoon with an acknowledgement that I'm hosting this event within the Traditional and Treaty Lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. In acknowledging Traditional Territories, I do so from a place of understanding the privilege my ancestors and I have had in this country, since they first arrived here in the 1830’s. As farmers in Southwestern Ontario, I imagine they felt a deep connection to the land, and yet likely did not recognize how that connection was built on the displacement of others. Delivering a land acknowledgement, for me, it's always an important opportunity to reflect on our human connection, and responsibility to care for the land; and to recognize that to do so, we must always respect each other, and acknowledge our histories. We encourage everyone tuning in today to learn more about the Traditional Territory on which you work and live.

The Empire Club of Canada is a non-profit organization. So, I now want to take a moment to recognize our sponsors, who generously support the Club, and make these events possible, and complimentary, for our supporters to attend. Thank you to our lead event sponsors, Bruce Power, LiUNA, and Waste Connections of Canada. Thank you to today's supporting sponsors, Alamos Gold Inc, the Association of Major Power Consumers in Ontario, the Association of Power Producers of Ontario, the Electricity Distributors Association, Enbridge Gas Inc, and NRStore Inc. Thank you, as well, to our season sponsors, the Canadian Bankers Association, LiUNA, Waste Connections of Canada, and Bruce Power.

Before we get started, just a few housekeeping notes. I'd like to remind everybody participating today, that this is an interactive event. So, those who are attending live, I encourage you to engage by taking advantage of the question box, by scrolling down below your on-screen video player. We have reserved time for a Q&A period after the Minister has made his remarks. We also invite you to share your thoughts today on social media, using the hashtags displayed on-screen throughout the event. If you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team, using the chat button on the right-hand side of your screen. To those watching on-demand later, and to those tuning in on the podcast, welcome.

It's now my pleasure to call this virtual meeting to order. I'm honoured to welcome the Honourable Todd Smith to the Empire Club of Canada's virtual stage. You'll hear more about him shortly, and you can find his full bio on the page below the video player on your screen. I'd like to now invite Joseph Mancinelli, International Vice-President and Regional Manager of Central and Eastern Canada at LiUNA, to deliver some opening remarks. Joseph, welcome and over to you.

Opening Remarks by Joseph Mancinelli, International Vice-President & Regional Manager of Central and Eastern Canada, LiUNA,
Thank you, Kelly. It is always a pleasure to be with you at the Empire Club. I have the pleasure of representing over 140,000 members across Canada, and over 100,000 here in the province of Ontario, many of whom work in the construction industry, and are a critical workforce for Ontario's energy sector. It's a pleasure to have the opportunity here today, to introduce our keynote speaker this afternoon, Minister of Energy, the Honourable Todd Smith. For over 25 years, he has been the trusted voice in the Quinte region. A graduate of Loyalist College, he embarked on a 16-year career in radio broadcasting, serving as the voice of the Belleville Bulls Hockey, and rising as News Director at Quinte Broadcasting. He was first elected in 2011, in the riding of Prince Edward—Hastings. While in Opposition, he served as the critic for several portfolios, including the energy file. In 2018, he was elected in the new Bay of Quinte riding as part of the Ford government, and has served numerous portfolios, including: Government House Leader; Minister of Government and Consumer Services; Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade; Minister of Children, Community and Social Services; and now, of course, Minister of Energy. He is a strong proponent of Ontario's nuclear advantage, and the Minister recently visited Bruce Power, a large employer, and partner of LiUNA, to explore their ongoing commitment to working with the Government of Ontario, and to deliver clean, reliable electricity to families and businesses across the province of Ontario, and life-saving medical isotopes across our planet.

Our Minister is dedicated to strengthening Ontario's energy portfolio, including running one of the world's cleanest energy grids, to deliver Canada's first commercial, grid-scale, small modular reactor SMR’s; to making Ontario a more competitive place to do business, with lower energy costs. Ontario energy sector is in a new power play, creating thousands of jobs for our members, and thousands of jobs for skilled trades, as well as advancing economic activity in the province of Ontario. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mr. Todd Smith.

The Hon. Todd Smith, Minister of Energy, Legislative Assembly of Ontario
Thanks very much, Joseph, for that introduction, and thanks, Kelly, for all the work that you and your team have done to make this event possible today. I know there are hundreds, literally, on the line—all we're missing is the chicken dinner to make it fully complete. But we are excited, and I'm energized, to be here with all of you today, to talk about Ontario's energy advantage. Before we begin though, I would like to take just a moment to recognize the tragic loss of a worker involved in the Wataynikaneyap Power Project, otherwise known as the Watay Project, who passed away yesterday. And on behalf of the Ministry and our sector, I just want to extend my condolences to their family, and their loved ones, and co-workers, and let everybody know that's working on that important project in Northwestern Ontario, connecting First Nations to the grid, that we're thinking of you at this very difficult time, so.

But I am pleased, and excited actually, to address the Empire Club today, to discuss all of the work that's underway across the Ministry of Energy as we continue to build on Ontario's energy advantage. It's my first time joining the Empire Club as Minister of Energy, I have been fortunate enough to be in the crowd for a few speeches in the past, and, being a part of the energy sector now for a number of years, including three years as the Opposition Critic for The Hydro One sale, and the energy file before the last election, and I'm really grateful, and I'm frankly I'm quite impressed by the sheer wisdom and the can-do attitude—that's not a c-a-n-d-u attitude that's a can-do attitude—and all the teamwork that describes so many of the people in this sector.

So, as we begin here this afternoon, I'd like to lead off my remarks by just speaking to the principles that guide me, before moving to where we collectively have been as a sector, and as a province, and what we've done, and where we're going. First off, I'd like to mention my four objectives as Ontario's Energy Minister—and many of you will have heard me rattle these off before, and I'm sure I can sound like a bit of a broken record at times—but I think it's really an important place to start, and it's a good reminder about why we're here. When our government hears from Ontario families, they do tell us four things about energy. They want an energy system that's reliable, because access to energy when we need it is key to how we live our lives—that light bulb has to turn on when we flick that switch. It's got to be affordable, because energy bills shouldn't be a source of angst for anyone, and costs need to be both reasonable and predictable. It's got to be sustainable, it's got to be clean—we've got a 94% emissions-free system that really does make us a leader in the world, but there's still more that we can do on that front, and I know we're going to talk about that this afternoon. And lastly, a system that supports customer choice, because Ontario families and businesses aren't all the same—they do want flexibility, and they want control over the energy that they use.

So, where have we been? Let's start there. Frankly, it's not so long ago that the topic of energy in Ontario garnered a very different response. During part of that period, I was serving as the Energy Critic, and I heard time and time again from employers considering Ontario as a place to invest, and create jobs, and do business, who ended up going somewhere else due to the province’s high electricity prices. And frankly, it's not so long ago that energy poverty was an issue here in Ontario, and letters to the editor in my community of Bay of Quinte, and across the province, were repeatedly opining over the big dilemma “to heat or eat.” And that's why, when we came into office, our first order of business was fixing the hydro mess that was left by the previous government. It was one that ended up contributing to at least 300,000 manufacturing jobs leaving Ontario, and it also resulted in electricity bills that were increasing, and expected to increase at 7% to 8%, year-over-year, for the next number of years; and so, it was unsustainable for many families and certainly businesses across Ontario.

So, we were there then, and continue today, to be committed to making the energy system much more affordable. And the first thing that we did after forming government in 2018, was we cancelled contracts for power that we didn't need. We had a surplus at the time, and that move ended up saving ratepayers nearly $800 million. And then we implemented the Ontario Electricity Rebate, which provides a 17% reduction on electricity bills for households, and farms, and small businesses across Ontario. We also implemented our comprehensive electricity plan, transitioning the above-market cost of renewable energy projects to the province, which ended up reducing electricity costs for both industrial and commercial businesses; and as of today, that's by about 17%. And so, these and other actions will, by November of next year, reduce residential electricity bills by 12%, making our electricity rates far more competitive than many other Canadian and North American jurisdictions, supporting significant investments that are going to secure jobs for decades to come. But we didn't stop there. For the first time in Ontario, we introduced customer choice for Ontario families, and small businesses, when it comes to electricity. By giving customers the power to choose between two distinct electricity pricing plans, either time-of-use pricing, or tiered pricing, and over the past year our local distribution companies—we’ll talk about LDC’s over the next little while—they've supported more than 300,000 customers who've taken advantage of that choice, and switched their plan to one that better fits their energy usage and ends up saving them money.

And with these major measures to lower electricity prices and provide customer choice now in place, our government has also been looking ahead to ensure that we continue to strive towards our goal of a reliable, affordable, and clean electricity system. So, a significant step in our vision and our path to sustainability is the Independent Electricity System—the IESO as we're going to call it this afternoon—the IESO’s Gas Phase-Out Impact Assessment, which was released just last fall. And what really stood out to me in that report—and I think anyone reading that report—is the potential impacts to affordability and reliability, which are two of the key pillars that we talked about that are so important going forward. The report did make it clear that a phase-out of natural gas fired generation, without adequate time to prepare, would add an estimated $100 a month to the average residential bill by 2030; so that's about a 60% increase on the average homeowner’s bill. And even under the most optimistic scenario, it would lead to emergency action, such as rotating blackouts to manage energy shortfalls, and that's not reliable when you have rolling blackouts or brownouts. And these outcomes are simply unacceptable to me, and I know they're unacceptable to our government, and they're unacceptable to most everybody in Ontario.

The significant increase in prices wouldn't just impact current consumers, but what it would also do is severely hinder electrification, and more substantial economy-wide initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So, today, Ontario is proud, as I mentioned, to have one of the cleanest electricity systems in the world, supporting decarbonization. Well over 90% of our electricity—94% as a matter of fact—is coming from non-emitting sources in 2020, and that's significantly better than not only the United States, but also the UK, and France, and Germany, and many other jurisdictions. That means that if you switch to an electric car, or maybe an electric air-sourced heat pump, you're making a bigger difference in reducing your carbon footprint, than if you did so in those other jurisdictions.

That all said, you know, we do recognize the need to plan for a future grid that maintains affordability and reliability, but also strives to reduce the, while small, three percent of remaining emissions that come from electricity production. That's why as we face a period of increasing electricity demand—and we know it's coming as electrification intensifies—and also as our nuclear facilities undergo a refurbishment, and Pickering Nuclear Generation Station closed, that I've asked the IESO to consider a moratorium on new gas plant builds, and develop an achievable pathway to zero-emissions in the electricity sector, when the balance is those key important pillars: sustainability, reliability and affordability.

And while the IESO continues its work on its pathway to zero-emissions, we've also taken a number of steps to support this work. Just a couple of weeks ago, I asked OPG, Ontario Power Generation, to explore new opportunities for hydroelectric development in Northern Ontario; and just yesterday, issued a new directive to the IESO on how Ontario will cost-effectively, and competitively, procure new sources of generation in the future. Under this resource adequacy framework, complementary competitive procurement mechanisms, including the capacity auction, which we're developing, and the medium-term requests for proposals, and the long-term RFP, will help our province meet our capacity needs, while we're delivering the best deal as possible for ratepayers in the province. With this directive, we've laid out key principles for the first, and future medium-term RFPs, which will see a competitive process to acquire capacity from existing generators and storage facilities. And we've also laid out the initial work, including the initiation of an RFQ, a Request for Qualifications, as the IESO prepares to conduct the long-term RFP, and it also directs the IESO to enter into two strategic procurement contracts. The first one is a contract with Atlantic Power, and that's for the Calstock Generating Station near Hearst, a biomass facility. It's the first contract renewal of Ontario's biomass fleet, which is so important to our province’s forestry sector. And the second directive—and this really actually could be the Holy Grail—and anybody who's been around the energy sector for a while, we've been talking about storage. And this is really an exciting project; it's the Oneida Energy Storage Project, in Haldimand County. And this project is going to be the largest grid-scale battery storage facility in Canada, among the largest in the world. And for years, we've been talking about the solution to the intermittency of renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, and projects like Oneida, which can store, and then dispatch energy at any time, could prove to be that Holy Grail that we've been talking about; allowing resources to play an enhanced and more productive role in our system. And the third part of the directive issued yesterday, also recognizes the critical and historic role that hydroelectric facilities, of all sizes, play in meeting Ontario's electricity needs. That is why it directs the IESO to design a program to provide new contracts to existing small hydroelectric facilities, many of them owned by small towns across our province like Bracebridge—I had the opportunity to visit one of their facilities with Lakeland Power earlier this year, and a beautiful facility near downtown Bracebridge.

You know, beyond this work, I'd be remiss if I didn't speak about Ontario's nuclear advantage as part of Ontario's energy advantage. Of course, Ontario's nuclear advantage is huge. Today, nuclear is the backbone; it's the foundation of Ontario's electricity grid, currently providing about 60% of our emissions-free electricity each year. And while the Province continues its extensive work to refurbish our nuclear fleet, to ensure that it can continue to provide low-cost, reliable, carbon-free electricity for decades to come, last month I was excited to announce Ontario's first new nuclear build since 1993, as Joseph was mentioning in his introduction, alongside OPG and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, we announced that the BWRX-300 is the selected technology for Canada's first grid-scale modular reactor—or SMR, small modular reactor—and the SMR at Darlington is going to build on the Canadian decades-old legacy of CANDU reactors, in which cutting-edge Canadian nuclear technology has helped and continues to help other countries around the world. Those CANDU reactors are already located in places like China, and Argentina, and South Korea, India, and Romania, significantly decreasing their greenhouse gas emissions. We know that this SMR technology is truly a game-changer for the energy industry, and with that announcement before Christmas, we've seized Ontario's opportunity to continue to be a world leader in nuclear technology. You know, we made the announcement before Christmas, and then in just a few weeks later—also just before Christmas—our leadership on this file began to pay off, with Poland’s Synthos Green Energy announcing their plans to purchase key components, to build up to 10 of Ontario's small modular reactors from our nuclear supply chain, namely BWXT Canada—that announcement was made in Cambridge at their facility there. And this agreement represents approximately a billion dollars, this agreement alone is approximately a billion dollars in contracts for BWXT Canada, and supports hundreds of jobs at their Ontario facilities, and across the nuclear supply chain, and marks the first major export opportunity of this made-in-Ontario technology, and I think this is going to be enormous. I really look forward to the ongoing work with our provincial partners, including Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Alberta, to deploy SMR technologies across Canada. And I hope to work closely with our federal partners as well, as Ontario moves ahead with this clean, zero-emissions energy source. But more importantly, I really look forward to seeing Ontario's nuclear leadership helping to meet energy needs around the world and making a significant step forward on the global path to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And we haven't even talked about the isotope benefit of our nuclear advantage here in Ontario, but there's a great story to be told around that, as well. Our government's also looking to other opportunities and technologies, to leverage our clean energy advantage. And we know from industry, that environmental and sustainability goals, those ESG mandates, are playing an increasingly important role in corporate decisions on where they want to invest and grow. And that's why, just this last Wednesday—we've been really busy at the Ministry of Energy—on Wednesday, I was pleased to announce that Ontario is developing a voluntary Clean Energy Credit Registry. And these Clean Energy Credits are certificates, that each represent one megawatt hour of clean electricity, and it's been generated from a non-emitting energy source here in Ontario. And this voluntary registry would increase Ontario's competitiveness, and grow our economy, by giving customers the tools that they've been looking for, to realize their clean energy preferences, and demonstrate that their electricity has been sourced from clean generation. Even more exciting, is that revenue from the voluntary purchase of these credits that we generate from businesses, could reduce the cost of electricity for other ratepayers on the grid, and at the same time creating an environment that will see more investment, and more jobs for Ontario workers. Companies want this, and we're delivering on this.

Low-carbon hydrogen is also a big piece of what we're working on at the Ministry of Energy. We can also further our province’s efforts in terms of the environment, and innovation, and jobs when it comes to hydrogen, and that's why we really look forward to the upcoming launch of Ontario's Low-Carbon Hydrogen Strategy/ It's going to outline several areas in which our government will collaborate with industry to leverage the power of hydrogen. And we know that low-carbon hydrogen has many exciting applications, including, for instance, by storing renewable energy during periods when generation is exceeding demand, and then releasing or generating it when demand is higher. And this kind of energy storage can help us strategically manage the grid, and strengthen our reliable electricity system. So, there's a lot a lot of work that we're continuing to do when it comes to the development of that hydrogen strategy, including a couple of meetings with stakeholders after this conversation with you all here this afternoon.

So, through all of these initiatives, our government's making Ontario a leader in economic growth, and a leader in clean energy. Our government wants to ensure that Ontario is a partner in helping businesses meet their environmental goals, especially when doing so can also support our own efforts to further decarbonize Ontario's electricity system and reduce Ontario's greenhouse gas emissions. But we can't do any of this alone. Joint efforts with our partners like the Ontario Energy Board, the IESO, the Independent Electricity System Operator, industry partners, and the federal government, are really critical to Ontario ensuring reliability, such as our united front on the importance of Line 5, also achieving our broader affordability, sustainability, and customer choice goals like our local distribution companies’ implementation of Green Button, which is going to allow you to take control of your electricity and natural gas bills from the palm of your hand. And Alectra, which is one of our local distribution companies, Alectra’s non-wires alternative project, Enbridge’s hydrogen home heating pilot in Markham—which I had an opportunity to participate in a showcase event with them just a couple of weeks ago, where they're injecting hydrogen into the natural gas line—there's also the joint heat pump pilot with London Hydro, and Hydro One, and Hydro One and Peak Power’s pilot on bi-directional EV charging. So, there's a lot going on, and we have lots of partners in this space that we're working with. And so, while supporting all Ontarians through these unprecedented times continues to be our government's top priority, we're going to continue to support new technologies, and innovative business models, that have the potential to lower electricity costs for everyone, to create more jobs, and also, attract investments to help our economic recovery efforts. And I really look forward to continuing to work with all of you together, as we set Ontario up for success and economic growth, as we emerge from COVID-19. I always say this, you know, once we get through Omicron and get through COVID-19, we are set for the roaring 2020s in Ontario. So, thanks for your time this afternoon; and Kelly, I'll throw it back to you, because I know you have some questions for me today from the audience.

QUESTION & ANSWER

Kelly Jackson
Thank you so much, Minister Smith. That was a great update on so many things. And I think, you know, I'll take the prerogative as host for today to maybe kick off the Q&A with a couple of questions of my own. But I do want to remind everybody who is watching live today to please enter your questions into the chat window; and those will be ones I'll be monitoring, so that we can get those to the Minister to answer.

So, Minister, I think I just wanted to start off and maybe have you comment a little bit around sort of the pace of change, and the scope of change, that's underway right now across Ontario's energy sector. In your remarks, you talked about so many different technologies, right? So, many different partners. And, you know, in speaking with some colleagues that work in the energy sector, phrases like “tsunami of change,” were things that were thrown out at me, and I think, just as people are tuning in today and thinking about it, you know, sort of from your perspective, where's Ontario sitting in terms of keeping up with that pace of change, and the scope of change?

The Hon. Todd Smith
Yeah, this is an exciting time, Kelly, there's no question about it. You know, as I said in my remarks, for years we saw energy rates in the province increasing, and we were trying to deal with what we inherited; but now there's a real opportunity for us to look forward, rather than look backward. And, you know, we know the demand for electricity is going to increase over the coming years, and that's why it's been such a priority for us to look ahead, and ensure that we can meet the demand, and get the best deal for the taxpayer too, which really drives us in the Ford government. And these complementary competitive mechanisms, including the medium- and long-term RFP, are going to play such a critical part in the process moving forward. And as I mentioned, with the directive I issued yesterday, we've laid out some of those key principles, including a focus on affordability, and ensuring the continued use of generation assets that we have. You know, we have about 30,000-plus generators in Ontario, and many of them their contracts would have expired before the start date of the RFP commitment period. So, all of these competitive processes are technology agnostic, and all of the resources will have the opportunity to present a business case demonstrating their cost-effectiveness. And we've also made a number of announcements with respect to the different types of renewables over the last couple of months.

We talked about the hydroelectric a bit, but we asked LPG to explore new opportunities for hydroelectric, we've completed a consultation, focused on supporting residential rooftop solar, and renewable sources, and giving them options to clarify, and give them more certainty, for their part, in leasing, and financing of net metering arrangements, like a project that we announced back in the fall in London, at Sifton homes, which is a really interesting community net metering project. There's really so many exciting things that are happening in the sector right now. And we're working with our partners at the Independent Electricity System Operator, to ensure that we are technology agnostic, and we're considering all of the options that are available to us, as we continue to power forward, and ensure that we have the electricity supply that we need in Ontario.

Kelly Jackson
As we think about the fact that it's sort of technology agnostic, it's also interesting to think about one of the things that you talked about around consumer choice, right, and thinking about, as people look at electrification on a personal level, you know, maybe buying an electrical electric vehicle, to working in sectors that are really looking at amplification of decarbonization through electrification, how do you see that consumer choice piece, sort of driving some of the transformation that we may see?

The Hon. Todd Smith
Yeah, I mean, one of the key pillars that we've been focused on is giving customers across the province more choice, and more control over their energy bills as well. So, you know, we talked about the time-of-use pricing, and we're exploring different opportunities there right now, the tiered pricing is also available. The Green Button, I kind of mentioned it in my remarks, but this is a project that London Hydro has been working on for quite some time, which not only gives customers choice, it gives them control over their electricity bills. And all 60 local distribution companies across the province are going to be adopting the Green Button standard, which is going to allow for the development of these hold-it-in-your-hand apps that are going to allow you, no matter if you're at the hockey arena with your kids to turn down the heat at home, or if you're on the beach in Mexico—hopefully, we'll be able to get back there soon—you'll be able to do the same things from there. And what Green Button’s project at London Hydro has shown, is that individuals who take control like this from their desktop, or from the palm of their hand, are using Green Button standard information is going to save you 6 to 18% on your electricity or your natural gas bills. So, it's really exciting time. So, customer choice and customer control really are keys to our success and what we're working on within the Ministry.

Kelly Jackson
And I think it touched on this in responding to that, because it does relate to affordability, right, and I know you spoke about that in your remarks as well. And I think you know, everybody's aware of the original campaigns or the promise to lower the rates by 12%, and I know you talked a little bit about being on track to reach that—I think you said about a year and-a-half. But we know there's another election coming up, and so, I just wondered if you wanted to speak a little bit about that sort of promise, and was it surprising that it took that long to get there? You know, what more do you maybe see on that front in terms of the affordability piece?

The Hon. Todd Smith
Yeah, so it’s, you know, we inherited a bit of a mess, and I think everybody in the sector certainly knows that. What we've been focused on is ensuring that we've reversed the trend of skyrocketing electricity prices, that really did drive jobs out of Ontario. And, you know, we've announced more good news on electricity rates for businesses recently—and not just businesses, but customers in general. You know, I was the Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade for a time, in 2018 and 2019, and it was really interesting, as I got out and met with businesses across Ontario, and even around the world, in that role, and talked to them about investing in Ontario, and the first question that they would ask—it didn't matter where they were, if they were in Ingersoll, or if they were in India—was, “why are your electricity prices, so high in Ontario?” So, we've done a lot of work through 2018, 2019, and making those changes that I talked about in my remarks. You know, we remember not so long ago that we were seeing double-digit percentage increases on our electricity bills in Ontario, and we did have something called energy poverty, and we did see businesses leaving. So, we've taken all those steps that I mentioned earlier, the comprehensive electricity plan, taking the global adjustment costs the renewable cost shift, and moving it from the rate base into the tax base, which makes us far more competitive. But we’ve also, by cancelling a lot of those projects that we didn't need—because we did have a surplus of electricity, and we didn't want to be paying that over market rate going forward—we cancelled 700-plus of those jobs, which saved us $800 million on electricity bills. So, we've also ensured that we're keeping the cost of electricity at or below the rate of inflation each year, and ordered the OEB to just have the rate setting in November each year, which continues to provide a little more certainty and stability to customers, whether they're in business, or homeowners, that the rate they're seeing now is the rate that they're going to pay for the next 12 months or so. So, by making the changes that we have made, compared with the Liberal government's previous long-term energy plan, by next year, we will have hit that mark. We're not seeing those seven and eight percent increases in electricity costs that were forecast in the previous government's long-term energy plan. Any increases now are at, or well below, the rate of inflation, which provides that certainty that I think businesses, in particular, are looking for.

Kelly Jackson
So, picking up I think on the theme of affordability, consumer choice and electrification, I am going to turn to one of the audience questions here. So, I’ve got a question about, could you speak to some of the major initiatives that the Province is undertaking to install EV stations, charging stations?

The Hon. Todd Smith
Yeah, so, it was pretty exciting actually. One of the partners that we have in this is the Ivy charging network, which is a combination of Hydro One and OPG working together. So, we're bringing electric vehicle fast-charging stations to all of the OnRoutes in the province, and that's going to make it a heck of a lot easier for people to come visit me in Bay of Quinte—there's so many people from the GTA that are coming to Prince Edward County. And actually just a fluke, the first two Ivy charging stations that are going to be set up are at the ONroutes are the ones in Trenton, so if you're on your way to Prince Edward County with your electric vehicle, make sure you stop at the ONroute and charge up, and I think those are going to be installed either, I think in the next couple of weeks, actually. So, by the time you want to come in the summer, they'll be there. But it's a partnership between, you know, the Ivy charging network, which as I mentioned is LPG and Hydro One, but also with the ONroute locations across the province, and the Canadian Tire franchises that are located at the ONroute facilities, and every single one of them on the 401 and 400 is soon gonna have at least two of these fast charge stations. And these are obviously busy sites, particularly in the summer, when people are travelling, and it's going to be really convenient, you'll be able to pull right off the 400 or the 401 into one of these ONroute locations, plug your car in, 15-20 minutes later after you go get your Starbucks or whatever it is you're going to get at the ONroute, maybe take a bio break, you'll come back, and you'll be able to continue right on with your summer travels. So, this is going to be happening, as I mentioned, all of the ONroutes, and they'll be opening over the next year. So, I think it's a great partnership, and super accessible, and I was pleased to announce that with Minister Mulroney, our Minister of Transportation, just a couple of months ago, that we were rolling these out at all locations.

Kelly Jackson
That's excellent news. And, you know, it also makes me think about sort of just the general infrastructure around that piece, and the capacity needs and where there's going to be growth. And so, you know, outside of those kinds of opportunities for the province, obviously can say, you know, let's use the ONroutes, like, let's figure that out. It makes me think of the municipalities, right, and what role municipalities have in planning, working with IESO working with others in the system. And so, just wanted to know, I know ROMA was recently just wondering if you wanted to talk a little bit about sort of, you know, how that partnership piece works with the municipalities, and what their role is in helping to support the planning going forward?

The Hon. Todd Smith
Yeah, sure. We just wrapped up the ROMA conference this week, and, you know—well attended virtually unfortunately, we weren't able to meet in person for that event either, which is always generally a lot of fun, as we get together with our municipal partners. I know that the IESO, The Independent Electricity System Operator, for the first time participated in the ROMA conference, and Karla Nell, one of their VP’s over at the IESO, did a great job in taking questions and engaging with our municipal partners, as well as we continue to plan for the future. We know that our municipalities are key partners in the energy sector, and so, communities across the province are involved in transmission, and generation, and conservation projects, as well as community energy planning. I think the perfect example is the Watay Project that I mentioned earlier; this is 24 different First Nations, partnering with Fortis, to hook all of these remote communities to the electricity grid. But we've moved quickly since taking office, to ensure that municipalities are fully involved in planning their energy future, because you know, what we started with—and my very first private member's bill, back when I was a green rookie in the legislature—was a bill to repeal the Liberals’ Green Energy Act , to restore municipal authority over the siting of renewable energy projects. It's caused so much chaos over the last 11, 12, 15 years, and so, we wanted to make sure, and we did that earlier in our days, was restore that municipal authority, ensuring that any proposed project would require a willing host community. And there's also a number of programs that can support municipalities working to achieve net-zero, including our regulatory changes, to explore a community net metering model, as we as we did in London with that West 5-Sifton Homes development that I was referencing earlier, as well as all kinds of other initiatives like Green Button, and in giving households and communities the tools they need to conserve energy, and reduce emissions, and lower their bills. So, we're providing for municipalities to develop or update community energy plans through the Municipal Energy Plan, and so far, there's been 545 actions, and programs, and objectives, to drive energy conservation that have been identified, and $69 billion in savings roughly, amongst the 56 Ontario municipalities that have participated in that program. So, there's a lot of engagement, we really do appreciate the feedback from municipalities, as we all together to try to reach our climate targets. And we will continue to accept that input, and I know the IESO is as well. And so, we're looking forward to continuing to work with municipalities as partners in this process.

Kelly Jackson
Thank you. We were definitely getting some excitement from the audience in terms of the Oneida announcement, and some questions around sort of just the, you know, if you can share anything more about energy storage, and where that fits in terms of the long-term plan, and just sort of are we considering using batteries to store excess electricity, or just hydrogen, and just wondering, I think people are really interested, if you have anything more you can share on that front?

The Hon. Todd Smith
Yeah, sure. We're really excited about the Oneida project. This was something that was started by my predecessor in this file, and I know still plays an important role for Minister Greg Rickford, and the folks at Oneida and NRStor, are really excited about this project. In particular, it's, you know, I refer to the Holy Grail, and we've been talking about the Holy Grail, battery storage is so important to harnessing that power that's being produced at times when we don't need it, and the intermittency of the renewables that we have in the province. So, having this type of battery storage project is so important, and, you know, obviously, as I mentioned too, as we go through the RFP process, midterm and long-term, RFP process with the Independent Electricity System Operator, they're going to be considering, you know, projects like battery storage, you know, compressed air storage. And there's a number of really interesting projects that are being proposed for the caverns that we have, particularly in Southwestern Ontario, to produce electricity and store electricity, so that we can have it at the peak periods at times when we need it. But I guess my whole point is, we're very much approaching this from a technology agnostic point of view, and the IESO is as well, considering all options. The one thing about this sector is, there are so many incredibly bright people that are working in this sector. Obviously, the analysis is going to take place to ensure that we're watching out for ratepayer,s and ensuring that projects that we are bringing online are going to ensure that we have an affordable, reliable, clean electricity system in our province for years and years to come, because if we are going to continue to see that investment in our province that we all want, we have to make sure that the price of electricity and the price of energy is affordable. So, there's a lot happening, there are so many interesting things. You know, you touched on hydrogen, I had an opportunity to head up to Hydrogen Optimised in Owen Sound, and my colleague MPP Bill Walker, back in the fall, and you know, they have partnerships with Bruce Power that are in the works as well. And so, there's a lot of really exciting things that are happening in the energy sector, and we're open to all the ideas. I said it back when I was the critic for energy from 2015 to 2018, and now, while I'm the Minister of Energy for the Province of Ontario, that we're willing to listen to every good idea that's out there, and I know the IESO is as well.

Kelly Jackson
I think that's actually a perfect segue into a question I have here from Wade. So, Wade would like to know, well, sort of, you know, Wade says that seems that the Ministry is only focused on electric or hydrogen technology. You've made a lot of points today that, you know, you're looking—there's a lot of different focus areas of focus. His question is, why aren't you looking at carbon-negative renewable, natural gas from AG waste for heavy duty transportation?

The Hon. Todd Smith
The short answer is, we are—I guess I didn't get to everything on my list. There's a lot of things that we're looking at within the Ministry of Energy, and again, we're open to all great ideas. So, I just had a meeting this morning, actually, with a stakeholder, talking about such an opportunity here in Ontario, in Eastern Ontario, I should say. And, you know, we're really pleased to be working with farmers to double, or even triple in some cases, the amount of off-farm organics that they can process, so that they can produce renewable natural gas. And I think Ontarians often do overlook the capacity of renewable natural gas—and we've done it here today—so, to Wade, I believe it was you said it was, that asked the question, this is something that we're certainly really interested in. And, and I can tell you this morning, I was meeting with my friends at Loyalist College talking about such an opportunity.

Kelly Jackson
Well, thank you, and that's excellent to hear. As somebody in the college sector, I always, you know, love it when we hear about opportunities to think about how we're using that the talent of our students, and employees, and staff, and faculty, to help solve all these kinds of real-world problems. Ian asks—also, some things as we've been talking about, agriculture and farming, that last question—Ian would like to know if you could tell us something about what the Ministry is doing to examine how farmers could be supported in keeping their energy costs affordable, and sustaining and supporting farming in the province?

The Hon. Todd Smith
Yeah, sure. One of the things that we're doing actually—and I didn't touch on it at all, either—is the rollout of the Natural Gas Expansion Program, that we've had two phases now, since we've been the government. And I know there's more than we can do, because there's farmers and there's municipalities all across Ontario, that are clamouring for natural gas in their communities. In the latest phase, phase two, where we announced that 28 different projects, in 43 different communities, were going to be rolled out across Ontario—and they do stretch, you know, from Cornwall, to Northern Ontario, and small, remote Indigenous communities as well. And while we were able to do 28 projects, we had about 200-plus applications for this. So, there's major demand for expansion, and while we're out there in different communities across the province celebrating the natural gas expansion program, we always get somebody from another municipality that says, “how come they got it, and not us?” So, you know, we're continuing to explore future opportunities. And there's always the opportunity for municipalities, outside of the natural gas expansion program process, to meet with your local natural gas provider, be it Enbridge or EPCOR, whoever it may be, to try and negotiate deals on their own. But, you know, we're working on the potential for a third phase of the natural gas expansion program, just because we know it's so important, particularly to farmers, they can save so much on they're drying costs, if they can make the conversion to natural gas. So, we've heard a lot from them, and stay tuned, there may be more on that in the near future.

Kelly Jackson
Thank you. We've got time for one more question. And, you know, this is I think this is a great question to be the last one. I'm just gonna read it: Ontario's clean energy advantage, it's real, and a huge opportunity for the province to exploit in its drive to net-zero. How are ordinary folks reacting to it?

The Hon. Todd Smith
How are ordinary folks reacting to the move to net-zero?

Kelly Jackson
Yeah, well, I think the idea that, you know, we've talked a lot about that we have, you know, one of the cleanest grids, right? And sort of, you know, just as you go out, and you talk to people, and you talk to all sorts of people in the sector and outside of the sector. So, you know, I guess the question is, do people see that clean energy advantage?

The Hon. Todd Smith
Yeah, I think so. I mean, there's been a lot of a lot of work that's been done, certainly on this file, and there's a lot more work to do. People are excited about it. I think there's a realization now, especially that we started to get the costs of providing electricity and energy under control a bit, I think ordinary folks really are proud of our clean electricity system, and they want to leverage it and do more with it. And certainly, we're hearing that, and Minister Fedeli would tell you about economic development, job creation and trade, that there's a lot of excitement around things like what we announced earlier this week, the Clean Energy Credits registry, which gives us an incredible opportunity to attract new investment, and create new jobs here in Ontario, and again, do it on a voluntary basis. Many of the businesses out there, around the world, that are looking to invest in Ontario, are looking for an opportunity like this, and it's something that we can leverage. So, there's lots of things that we can do to improve sustainability, and one of the best things we can do is to keep electricity costs affordable, because if we can keep electricity costs affordable, that's going to allow us to explore all of these new ways to electrify, and there's a lot of excitement about that, for sure. You know, maybe just one more point about the Minister Fedeli, and his excitement is, you know, around the electric vehicle front, and just, you know, the investments that have been made in a number of different auto manufacturers in their electric vehicle platforms in Ontario. And those investments wouldn't have been made four or five years ago, those investments are being made now, because of the stability of the electricity costs in Ontario. And there's an opportunity for us to get a whole lot more investment, not just in the platforms to build these vehicles, but also, the companies that want to build the EV batteries in Ontario is something we're really focusing on. And it all comes down to ensuring that we've got a reliable, affordable, clean electricity system and Ontario.

Kelly Jackson
Thank you so much. And that, you know, I think that's a great way to sum up the conversation. And, you know, we could have probably made this a three-hour event and still be going with it the Q's and A's, because there is so much underway, and so many exciting things happening. Thank you for being with us today to talk about those things, and to update us, and yeah, we look forward that the Empire Club to follow where the clean advantage story is going. I'd like to now welcome James Scongack, who's the Chief Development Officer and Executive Vice-President Operational Services at Bruce Power, to deliver some appreciation remarks. James, over to you. Welcome.

Note of Appreciation by James Scongack, Chief Development Officer & Executive Vice-President Operational Services, Bruce Power
Great. Thanks very much for having me, Kelly and Minister. I have to plead guilty in advance, when the Empire Club asked if we were sponsoring this, they said I could say whatever I wanted, that it didn't need to be concluding remarks—I don't know if that's true or not, but I guess I'm last. Look, Minister, thank you very much for your remarks, and also, Mr. Mancinelli, for kicking things off. You've both been extraordinary partners of, not only Bruce Power, but Ontario's nuclear sector, and more broadly, the energy sector.

All joking aside, there's really, I think, three key points that you talked about in your remarks, which I think are right on the money. The first is reliability, and I think your support for nuclear baseload, or hydro baseload, and building around the need for flexibility in the system around those, is absolutely the right ingredients for reliability. That's been the case the last 40 years, and it is going to continue to be the case for the for the next 50 years. In the area of climate change, and getting to net-zero, again, with that strong reliability foundation, that allows us to now go and tackle climate change. And I know that all of those various projects that you spoke about, Minister, you and your staff have just worked extraordinarily hard, since you were sworn in as minister. And I know you're not getting those projects from a briefing note—there's not many of those projects that you haven't visited yourself. And I think what's also great about those projects that are helping us to get to net-zero as a province is, and I think this ties in with Joe Mancinelli’s members is, we don't fight climate change by writing policy papers, we fight climate change by building things, and doing things, and putting people to work. And I think, you know, that's really why I'm aligned with what you said. And of course, all of those elements build an extraordinarily strong economy, and we can't do the things we do. We can't take care of those that are vulnerable in our communities and make these investments without a strong economy. So, I do want to thank you for today's remarks.

You also mentioned medical isotopes. So, don't get me started on that, or we'll never get out of here today, but, you know, these are some of the kinds of innovative things that are happening in the energy sector that are just fantastic. And they go beyond some of the things we may think of in the first instance, to the health and wellness of our communities, and our world internationally. So, again, Minister, thank you to you, and I always like to give a shout out to your staff as well. As you know, I have the privilege of chairing the IESO Stakeholder Advisory Committee, which represents the entire electricity sector, and one of the things I can tell you, when we get together as a as a stakeholder advisory committee, and we engage in these various issues, it's very clear we have a Minister of Energy that is out there in the field, seeing the sights, hearing the projects, having the discussions, also asking the tough questions when you need to ask those tough questions, and the staff to follow up. And I think that's really important ingredients for the success of a Minister of Energy. So, thanks again, and Kelly, back over to you.

Concluding Remarks by Kelly Jackson
Thank you, James. And thanks again, of course, to Bruce Power, and all of our sponsors for their support. Thanks to our guests, and everyone joining us today, or watching later on-demand. Our next virtual event is next Thursday, February 3rd at 12 noon, Eastern Time. Join us as we hear from Business Development Bank of Canada's CEO Isabel Hudon, on how BDC is working to be the partner of choice of entrepreneurs who are looking to create value and build a more sustainable and inclusive economy. I also want to highlight, for those interested in all things energy, that we will be hosting the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources on February 16th, as part of our “Fuel for Thought” series with the Canadian Fuels Association. More details, and complimentary registration are available at empireclubofcanada.com. This meeting is now adjourned. I wish you a great afternoon. Stay safe and take care.

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The Hon. Todd Smith: Ontario's Energy Advantage


28 January, 2022 The Hon. Todd Smith: Ontario's Energy Advantage