A Power Lunch with Energy Minister
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- November 3, 2022 A Power Lunch with Energy Minister
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November 7, 2022
The Empire Club of Canada Presents
A Power Lunch with Energy Minister
Chairman: Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Kelly Jackson, Past Board President & Board Director, Empire Club of Canada
Distinguished Guest Speakers
The Honourable Todd Smith, Minister of Energy, Government of Ontario
James Scongack (by video), Chief Development Officer and Executive Vice-President of Operational Services, Bruce Power
Megan Telford, Chief Human Resources Officer, Hydro One
Michele Harradence, President, Enbridge
Head Table Guests
Megan Boyle, Director, Public Affairs, Red Bull Canada
Jason Fitzsimmons, Deputy Minister of Energy, Government of Ontario
Dave Forestell, Vice-President, Stakeholder Relations Canada, TC Energy
Tim Hodgson, Chair, Hydro one
Mark Olsheski, Vice-President, Sussex Strategy Group
Clint Thomas, Senior Manager, Government Relations, Bruce Power
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, Immediate Past President, Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon. Welcome to the 119th season of the Empire Club of Canada. My name is Kelly Jackson. I am the Immediate Past President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club, and Vice-President, External Affairs and Professional Learning, at Humber College. I want to extend a very warm welcome to everybody who's joining us today. Whether you're here in person at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Toronto, whether you're online as a member of our virtual audience, or if you're tuning in later, to watch or to listen to this on demand, welcome.
As your host for today's event, I am delighted to have the opportunity to be able to pick up on the conversation that I had last January with the Honourable Todd Smith, Ontario's Minister of Energy. Today, we're going to have the chance to hear key updates from the Minister and continue the discussion on the province’s clean energy initiatives, and the progress made, in creating an affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy system for all.
Before we get started, a couple of quick housekeeping notes. I want to remind everybody that's joining us that we have reserved time for question-and-answer period with the Minister after he has made his remarks. So, if you're tuning in, I encourage you to engage by finding the question box which you will see below your on-screen video player. If you're in the room, on your program you will see a QR code which you can scan to be able to submit a question. If you're online and you require any kind of technical assistance while you're watching, you can start a conversation with our team using the chat button that you're going to see on the right-hand side of your screen. Okay, so that's it for the housekeeping.
To formally begin, I want to acknowledge that we are gathering today on 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 that my ancestors and I have had since they first arrived in this country in the 1830’s. As farmers in southwestern Ontario, I imagine they felt a very deep connection to the land. And yet, likely did not recognize how that connection was built on the displacement of others. Delivering land acknowledgement, for me, it's always an important opportunity. It’s a chance to reflect on our human connection and our shared responsibilities to care for the land. And to recognize that to do so, we must always respect each other and acknowledge each other's histories. We encourage everybody who's here today in the room, or if you're tuning in online, 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 thank our sponsors, who generously support the club and make these events possible and complimentary for our online viewers to watch. Thank you to our lead event sponsors, Bruce Power, Enbridge, and Hydro One; thank you to our VIP reception sponsor, TC Energy; thank you to our supporting sponsors, Hydrostor, OEC, SNC-Lavalin. And a big thank you to our season sponsor, Bruce Power.
James Scongack is the Chief Development Officer and Executive Vice-President of Operational Services at Bruce Power. He is currently on assignment at Bruce B Nuclear Generating Station, so he couldn't be with us here today. However, he did want to provide Minister Smith with a few words of welcome. So, we've done that through a short video.
Introduction by James Scongack, Chief Development Officer and Executive Vice-President of Operational Services, Bruce Power
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Empire Club, for providing me the opportunity to introduce Ontario's Minister of Energy, the Honourable Todd Smith. As people know, Bruce Power operates the world's largest nuclear facility. We produce about a third of Ontario's electricity. But also in this facility, we're the world's largest provider of medical isotopes. Whether that's cobalt-60, used to sterilize billions of pieces of personal protective equipment and COVID swabs around the world, or isotopes used to treat brain tumours, breast cancer tumours, and prostate cancer; it's home to that great Canadian success story of not only isotope supply, but more importantly, helping fight cancer.
Any of you that have had the opportunity to work with Minister Smith know how committed he is to being out and about in the province. He goes to sites that produce electricity; he goes to companies that produce innovation. He talks to local distribution companies; he talks to transmission companies. And at every single crossroads, he's engaged with the workers who make a difference every day, actually turning the policy that we like talking about into reality. So, Minister Smith, people know who you are because you've made yourself so accessible. But what I can't emphasize enough on behalf of the men and women that call Bruce Power home is how important it is to take our policy into action. And right here today, we have over three thousand people working in our plant to produce safe, reliable electricity. People working in our plant to modernize it and life extend it for the next several decades.
People working in our plant to fight cancer can only do what they do with policy certainty. So, Minister Smith, I want to thank you for that policy certainty. With that policy certainty, with clear direction, we are able to mobilize the financial and the human resources, and the best in Ontario innovation, to make that happen. So, I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome the Honourable Todd Smith, Ontario's Minister of Energy to the Empire Club podium. And most importantly, thank the Minister for his support, on behalf of the men and women at Bruce Power, for everything that the government continues to do, and the IESO, to allow us to play the role that we play. We're proud of that role. It's a role that we never take for granted. It's a role that we're humbled to be a part of, and a role that we recognize we need to continue to innovate to be strong. Thank you, Minister Smith.
[End of Video]
Well, we had one fabulous welcome to the Minister by video. And now, it's time for a second one in person. So, I would like to invite Michele Harradence, President of Enbridge Gas, to introduce our guest speaker. Michelle, welcome.
Opening Remarks by Michele Harradence, President, Enbridge Gas
Well, next time I'm bringing videos, because that was pretty cool. Hi, I'm Michele Harradence, President of Enbridge Gas. And I have the privilege and honour of introducing our phenomenal guest speaker today, the Honourable Minister Todd Smith, Ontario's Minister of Energy. While Minister Smith likely needs little introduction to the crowd, I'm pleased to share a brief overview of his background and his accomplishments. Mr. Smith is a graduate of Loyalist College, and prior to working in politics, had a lengthy career in radio broadcasting. I always like to mention, as well, that he and I are fellow Maritimers; there's something special about that, too.
He was first elected as an MPP in 2011, in the Riding of Prince Edward—Hastings in Eastern Ontario. And while in opposition, he served as the PC critic for many portfolios, including the energy file. He was re-elected earlier this year in the Bay of Quinte Riding, and was re-appointed to serve as Minister of Energy, a file with which he is very familiar, and has held since 2021. At Enbridge Gas, we were also very pleased to see a familiar face as Minister of Energy. Previously, he served as Government House Leader, Minister of Government and Consumer Services, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, and Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.
In the brief eight months since I've stepped into my new role as president of Enbridge Gas, I've had the pleasure of working with the Minister on a wide range of files, and can attest that he's an excellent advocate for Ontario's energy sector. Minister Smith has, of course, been instrumental in the success of the Natural Gas Community Expansion Program that's bringing safe, cost-effective, and dependable natural gas to rural and remote communities across the province. We're also proud to have support from the Minister and the Ontario government on the expansion of our hybrid heating pilot, The Clean Home Heating Initiative. This program is a great example of a pipes and wires, or diversified approach to energy management, that also ensures a cost-effective, resilient path to achieving a clean energy future.
As all of us in the room are aware that the energy sector is at an inflection point. The entire industry is seeking to provide energy security and affordability, at a time when the population is increasing alongside demand, while also ensuring sustainability. As Enbridge’s recent Pathways to Net Zero Report demonstrated, we must ensure we are leveraging all energy sources and existing infrastructure in the most responsible way, to achieve our collective goals related to climate action. As the entire energy sector evolves to meet our current challenges, we're pleased to have Minister Smith at the helm, leading the province on this file. And of course, we know that no one can do it alone. So, I'd be remiss not to mention strong support from the Energy Transition and Electrification Panel. As together, we look to chart a path forward to a greener future, while ensuring economic and social stability for residents and businesses across the province. And now, the man of the hour. Please join me in welcoming Minister Smith, Ontario's Minister of Energy
The Honourable Todd Smith, Minister of Energy, Government of Ontario
Thanks so much, Michele, for the introduction, and thanks to James Scongack from Bruce Power. Isn't it great to see James working for a change, eh? Putting in a full day's work there at B—you can tell him I said that, Clint. James, obviously, is a good friend and a good advocate, and obviously providing a lot of Ontario's power every day out at Bruce. And Michele, thank you. As a fellow Maritimer, it was great to be introduced by you—and good luck cleaning up down there. I know you've got a little bit of work to do at the cottage.
It is really great to be here today. And Kelly and I were talking before I was introduced about the fact that I was a guest back in January. And apparently, I made the comment it wasn't quite the same being together, and I was missing the chicken dinner. So, thank you for the chicken lunch—it was not rubber at all, it was very good. It was actually a very nice lunch. There's a few other people in the room that I'd like to recognize. It was mentioned that I was previously the energy critic, and I know Brad Duguid was very fond of me in those days. He wasn't the energy minister at that time, but the former energy minister is in the room—Brad, good to see you again, my friend; there he is. My other good friend from the legislature is Bill Walker. Bill has now become the CEO and President at the OCNI, the Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries. Where are you, Bill? Long-time member.
So, as you can see, looking at Bill and looking at Brad, there is life after Queen's Park, and it's a good life, from what I understand. Also, there's too many people in the room to point them all out. You've all been great partners and advocates for your particular part of the energy sector. I do want to embarrass my staff. There's a number of my staff that are here today. I'm not going to introduce them by name, but please, everybody that works at the Ministry of Energy stand up—on my side, anyway. Not you, Deputy, I'll introduce you separately. It’s quite a group. They're the ones that do the real work. Also, really great to have my parliamentary assistant Stéphane Sarrazin in the house today—where’s Stéphane? Stéphane is the MPP from Glengarry—Prescott—Russell. One of two parliamentary assistants. Somehow Stéphane got the Get Out of Jail Free card to attend lunch today. My other parliamentary assistant, who had to attend question period and house duty, is Jess Dixon. And Jess is our member from Kitchener South—Hespeler. She wishes she could be here today, but somebody has to mind the fort back there. And also, it's great to have my brand new—the shine is still on him—Deputy Minister Jason Fitzsimmons, who's here. He officially started his duties on October 11th. Most of you know Jason. He's been around the energy sector in Ontario for a long time. Tim, I'm sorry for stealing him from Hydro One, but it's great to have him join our team and have the knowledge that he has in the energy sector. I've had the opportunity to work with Jason during his time at Hydro One, and really looking forward to bringing the energy that he has to his new role at the Ministry of Energy.
So, a lot has happened since January, when I first addressed this audience. When I laid out our government's plan for Ontario's energy sector, and my four main objectives as the Minister of Energy: to ensure an electricity system that is affordable, and clean, and above all, reliable, while supporting customer choice, no matter where you live in the province. Today, I want to update you on everything that we're doing to deliver on our plan to meet Ontario's growing energy needs, while driving innovation and moving our economy forward. Because let me tell you, the last nine months have been some of the busiest the sector has ever seen.
As many of you know, one of my first jobs in our new government was as the Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade. And at that time, all we heard from industry was that they were moving out of Ontario. I took that phone call from General Motors in November, my first week on the job as the Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade—I was at the arena in Trenton coaching my daughter's hockey team—telling me that they were closing down their Oshawa plant, after a hundred years, and moving their operations south.
But what a difference we've been able to make in the last four years. We have, as I like to say, flipped the script on the story in Ontario. We've made the changes that were needed to create an environment in Ontario that's attracting jobs and investment at a record pace—Minister Fedeli talks about it almost every day. And today, we're seeing incredible economic growth across our province. We're investing in electric vehicles, battery manufacturing, and clean steelmaking. We're giving consumers more opportunities to manage their electricity use and control their costs. And as Ontario's population grows and investment continues, we're ready to meet the rising demand for reliable, affordable and clean energy. That's why, in November, about this time last year, I wrote to the Independent Electricity System Operator—and Leslie's here, from the IESO, great to see you Leslie—asking them to move ahead with a series of steps to secure Ontario's energy future. And in recent months, we've made a number of announcements as we made progress on our plan.
One key step was my recent direction to the IESO to proceed with a competitive procurement to acquire four thousand megawatts of new electricity generation and storage resources. This energy is going to be critical to support the incredible economic growth and electrification that I've mentioned, while, at the same time, creating good, high-paying jobs across the energy sector.
A critical part of our approach is ensuring a diverse supply mix. And this procurement expands our toolbox on that front. With at least 1500 megawatts of energy storage, this process represents the largest procurement of energy storage in Canada's history, probably North America's history. That's a huge expansion from the one hundred megawatts that are currently on the grid. The procurement is also going to ensure reliability, with up to 1500 megawatts of natural gas generation, which the IESO has said is critical to meeting peak demand.
Now, some may say—and some have said—why build natural gas generation at all? And this is a question I myself asked the IESO in a letter last year. And frankly, the response I received back is: while other generation can meet much of our upcoming electricity needs, we can't ensure a reliable electricity grid without some small portion of natural gas generation on the margin. It's a necessary backup option when a nuclear reactor needs to undergo maintenance, or when the sun doesn't shine or the wind doesn't blow. And we need certainty that electricity is going to be there when we need it. Because without a reliable and affordable grid, we can't expect Ontarians to adopt electric vehicles, or consider electric heat pumps, and we can't expect industry will electrify; changes that will all help drive down emissions in our province. And we definitely can't expect to create new jobs or attract investment if we can't guarantee those investors reliable power.
As the experts of the IESO say, though, the cheapest generation to build is the generation that we don't have to build at all. And that's why, as a second step, I was pleased to announce that at the same time that we build our new generation, we're also increasing our funding by more than 340 million dollars to expand our energy efficiency programs. And that can mean huge benefits for Ontario. Whether it's funding for a municipality to upgrade the chiller at their local arena, or funding to help a local business install new insulation, or better windows and doors. These types of upgrades will not only reduce demand on the provincial grid, but they're also going to reduce energy use and operational costs. By 2025, these expanded programs will help deliver enough annual electricity savings to power about 130,000 homes every year and reduce costs for consumers by over 650 million dollars. It's a win for consumers, it's a win for the economy, it's a win for Ontario. And clearly, it's a win for the environment as well.
In that same vein, step three is ensuring that we're making best use of our existing clean energy generation assets that are already running across the province. In September, I was pleased to make the announcement in front of more than two hundred workers at Ontario Power Generation that our government is supporting the continued operation of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station through September 2026. It was a great day; sun was shining that day. In recognition of the essential role that nuclear energy plays in our electricity system, I've also asked OPG to conduct a feasibility assessment on the refurbishment of the station B units at Pickering. Keeping Pickering operational, at least through ‘26, will secure the continued generation of reliable and low-cost electricity. And that's critical, because our nuclear advantage is a clean energy advantage. But it's also a jobs advantage, and it's even a healthcare advantage, as James pointed out in his video. But building on that advantage and advancing the important work ahead of us requires more than just words. That's why Ontario's been looking ahead to new opportunities. And I'm thrilled that Ontario is on track to be the site of the world's first commercial grid scale small modular reactor at Darlington, providing clean electricity to our grid by 2028. With OPG filing their official leave to construct application to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission earlier this week, this is a major achievement for our province.
And let's be clear, there's still a lot of work ahead. And to that point, I was pleased to join Minister Wilkinson last week at Darlington to announce the investment by the Canada Infrastructure Bank in the Darlington SMR project to the tune of almost a billion dollars—the CIB’s first ever investment in nuclear—970 million dollars. I look forward to continued progress on this important project, and to working with the NRCan Minister, Minister Wilkinson, and the federal government, to see how they can continue to support our work here in Ontario. The Canada Ontario Regional Energy and Resource Table that we announced last week, as well, is going to be important for that work. The table is going to support important conversations about federal support, as we grow our clean, affordable electricity grid, and develop our critical minerals at the Ring of Fire, as well as how we can streamline permitting requirements for energy and resource projects. One key conversation at that table will be the challenges that the new federal Impact Assessment Act creates for Ontario, and other provinces, when they look to achieve a cleaner grid.
The federal government is quick to talk about 2035 clean grid targets. But even with bullish action on the part of the provinces, a large energy project that's committed to today, in 2022, faces and impact assessment that could take eight or nine years, then four or five years of construction after that. And that makes 2035 impossible. If Ottawa is serious about achieving clean electricity grids across the country, shortening timelines to do the Impact Assessment Act isn't just a nice to have, it's a must have; it's required.
Another key conversation that we’ll have at that table is the need for a Canadian answer to the preferential tax treatment for clean energy resources that we find in that brand new US Inflation Reduction Act. Today, the deputy prime minister will present the fall economic statement up on Parliament Hill, which presents a perfect opportunity for the federal government to respond. And I'm very, very hopeful that we'll see the Feds level up their support to match what's happening in the United States. Beyond supporting investment in Canada, though, matching tax incentives would help keep costs down for ratepayers, as we move forward with building new generation to meet our future needs. That type of support, especially for nuclear energy, would also be a signal to the world, that Canada, the Canadian flag, that Canada is fully committed to advancing our world-leading nuclear technology and expertise. And that's an important signal to send because it's clear that the world is watching what's happening in Ontario and watching what's happening in Canada. And when I say the world is watching, I'm not exaggerating. Last month, I had the opportunity to travel and meet with governments from Poland, and Estonia, and the Czech Republic. And I heard firsthand about their interest in SMRs. They're looking to us here in Ontario, in Canada, for solutions to help achieve energy independence. To help clean the air and meet their own climate goals. And the consistent message in every country was that they're looking at our project at Darlington as the model for how to do it right.
Now, to be fair, those conversations have been occurring for more than just the last year. But frankly, it was the Russian invasion of Ukraine that's put this issue front and centre in countries across Europe. It's made conversations with our NATO allies even more important, as we look to our democratic partners to achieve energy independence, and their own self reliance. These are discussions that I honestly didn't expect to have when I took this position just over a year ago. But with the eyes of the world on us, we have an important responsibility. We need to demonstrate that projects can be delivered as promised. And I know that's a responsibility that Canada's world-class nuclear industry, and our government, is ready for.
Before I finish here today—and I know there's a lot more to come from Kelly—I do want to look ahead at some important conversations that we'll continue to have in Ontario about the future of our broader energy system, beyond just electricity generation. Later this year, I'll receive the IESOs Pathway to Decarbonization Report, which will lay out potential pathways to zero emissions in the electricity system, and likely lead to some pretty big decisions. This will be supported by advice that I receive later in 2023, from the Electrification and Energy Transition Panel that's being chaired by our good friend, Dave Collie. And I know he's been seen by some as the panel of one, since he was announced earlier this year that there was going to be a panel. And while I'm confident that he could do it himself—because he's a pretty thorough guy, he's been doing a great job so far—I'm looking forward to filling the two positions before the end of the year so that the panel can really start to ramp up their work. And one thing I can say for certain is that, as we move forward, our government is going to continue to champion initiatives that support Ontario's electricity consumers, and promote sustained economic growth across Ontario, leveraging our world-class, clean electricity grid. Thanks, everyone, for being here. I hope you enjoyed your chicken as much as I do. And I'm looking forward to taking some tough questions from Kelly now. Thank you.
QUESTION & ANSWER
Well, thank you so much for those remarks, and for the update on so many different fronts. Before we get into it, just a couple things. We're working out a couple of technical issues with the Q&A app. So, hopefully, that'll be resolved shortly. But we are gonna just play a quick video. Because I know we all have, you know, attention spans that are changing, and we all love some good videos. So, we're gonna watch a quick video here. Give yourself some time, also, to think if you've got a question that you'd like to submit, and then we're going to get into it.
The Hon. Todd Smith
I'm sure if you're short on questions, Brad probably would love the opportunity to ask me some questions.
Sounds good. Want to roll the video, please?
Ontario families and businesses have built one of the cleanest electricity grids in the world. At the same time, the Ontario government has taken quick action to reduce electricity bills for Ontario families, small businesses, and farms, as well as for large commercial and industrial consumers. All with a grid that's 94 percent emissions-free, and affordable. Our diverse electricity supply provides stability and reliability in an ever-changing economy. Ontario's energy advantage from this sustainable system provides good jobs in cutting-edge fields like advanced manufacturing, nuclear refurbishment, and medical isotope production. Affordable clean electricity is driving our economy, creating jobs and helping us achieve our Made in Ontario climate commitments.
[End of Video]
The Hon. Todd Smith
I’ll save the energy sector some money because we don't have to pay anybody to do voiceovers anymore.
Yeah. You’re available?
The Hon. Todd Smith
I just do all the voiceovers myself. Ready for hire!
Okay, sounds good. So, I think we've fixed at what's happening with the Q&A app. But I do have a couple of my own questions. That's always the prerogative of the moderator to start with their questions. Certainly, in your remarks, you talked about the fact that, you know, a year ago, you weren't expecting to be having conversations about maybe geopolitics the way you have been, energy independence. When we have the chance to chat in January, we talked about a lot of things—we didn't really delve into that. Given that you were recently in Washington, in Eastern Europe, sort of what's your sense on, you know, how the war in Ukraine has really sort of changed the conversation; and now, what kind of opportunities are sort of being opened up for Ontario?
The Hon. Todd Smith
Yeah, it's been quite a remarkable impact that the war in Ukraine has had, not just in Eastern Europe, but in energy markets around the world. I did have the opportunity to visit four countries while I was in Europe. And we also were in Finland visiting the Deep Geological Repository there for lately spent fuel in their nuclear sector. I can tell you, there's a lot of anger, there's a lot of unrest, there's a lot of uncertainty—particularly in Europe—because of what's happening there. And it hits everyone close to home. You know, everywhere you look, it's very pro-Ukraine, and very anti-Russia and anti-Putin right now. There's anxiety that's there. When we were in Poland meeting with a couple of the companies and the government officials in Warsaw, they had just recently made the decision there because of the uncertainty about how individuals were going to be able to heat their home. They had made a decision to allow people to burn lignite in their chimneys at home, one of the highest-polluting forms of coal. And, interestingly, in Poland, you know, their smog days—and you'll recall the days when we had smog days in Ontario, they were mostly in the summer—they’re expecting a very dirty winter. Their smog days, their peaks are during the winter months. They don't know what to do, but they're looking very closely at our small modular reactor project in Poland.
And just to maybe drive home how close to home this hits, I'm sitting on my flight flying from Warsaw to Tallinn, Estonia—and sitting in the emergency row because I'm a big guy—and this young lady comes on the flight carrying a baby, a little five-month-old baby. And I said: oh no, she's going to be sitting next to me, I'm going to have this baby sitting next to me on the whole flight. And she immediately said: yep, I'm going to be sitting next to you with my baby. She used to work for Ukrainian airlines as a flight attendant and—a lovely little baby five-month-old, David—and she was fleeing Kyiv. She was fleeing Kyiv. And she had made the decision that week, leaving her husband behind in Ukraine, and was going to stay with her brother in Tallinn, Estonia. It really hit home to me just how this has impacted people's lives in Ukraine and across Europe. And so, the energy conversation has really changed. Energy has really become important to people right across Europe. And Canada can be the answer to those energy security and energy autonomy questions. And so, it's really elevated the discussion. And I think there is now an urgency—not just in Europe, but here in North America—to be able to provide for our NATO allies, as I mentioned earlier, and our friends in Europe.
And I don't know if it's fair to call it a tone change. I mean, I think people here know, I'm not from the energy sector, so. But, you know, based on when we chatted in January to now, there does seem to be a bit of a shift in terms of the federal level, and some of the engagement with Ontario on some of these big initiatives.
The Hon. Todd Smith
Yeah, that's very fair to say, absolutely. You know, we've had a great working relationship with the Natural Resources Canada Minister, Minister Wilkinson, on a couple of different fronts. And I understand he was here last week—or recently in Toronto anyway—for a big speech, and talking about the fact that we are working together on a number of different fronts, you know, particularly on the small modular reactor file now. But also, I think because of the situation in Ukraine, there is an urgency to get projects done here sooner as well. This could be the catalyst to getting shovels in the ground and projects moving a lot faster. I know that Impact Assessment Act is a barrier right now, and that's one of the key topics that we agreed to with the federal government when we agreed to the regional roundtables on natural resources.
And certainly, my colleague, George Pirie, who's the Minister of Mines for Ontario—a brand new member, the former mayor of Timmins and a long-time member of the mining sector in Canada—is very anxious to see mining projects move ahead faster as well. It's going to be mining those critical and strategic minerals in North America that allows us to build the electric vehicles here in Ontario, getting that lithium for our battery storage projects that we're going to be building across Ontario, and so many other strategic minerals that are in the ground here in Ontario. My colleague, Greg Rickford, he would always say that when you hear Joe Biden talking about their domestic supply of critical and strategic minerals, he's actually talking about Northern Ontario, and North America’s critical supply of natural resources. And I think there's an acknowledgement at the federal level that we need to discuss ways to get these minerals out of the ground, get them produced, and into EV batteries that people are going to have in their driveways in the very near future.
You just referenced battery storage. And when we chatted in January, there was a lot of excitement. I remember a lot of audience questions came in around the Oneida Project. Just wondering, has there been sort of, you know, just what's the general update on that since that time?
The Hon. Todd Smith
We're continuing to work with that, I know the Independent Electricity System Operator folks are working with Oneida and NRStor to see that project to fruition; there's great First Nations involvement on that project as well. And, you know, it'll be a first of its kind. So, you know, we're anxious to work with the folks there that are on that project and many others, now that we've made the commitment to 1500 megawatts of energy storage of all kinds. It’s not just battery storage, there's hybrid compressed air projects that are out there, pumped storage is always part of the conversation in Ontario. So, we're anxious to have those conversations, but anxious to get there on Six Nations and break ground on that project, hopefully soon.
I think everybody recognizes the absolute, that it's integral that Indigenous Peoples are involved with conversations around energy. And, you know, I know there's been a number of—even, again, since we last chatted in January—interesting things happening in the sector, some projects moving forward. And shout out to Hydro One for a really interesting announcement around a new equity model. So from your perspective, you know, as you move through these files—and you know, there's so many different technologies—how are you seeing that role of reconciliation kind of coming into conversations? And how does that, is that sort of at the forefront as you're talking to people?
The Hon. Todd Smith
Yeah, absolutely. And I think everybody in the sector understands how important it is to start those conversations at the beginning, and to work with our First Nations communities and First Nations partners, but all community partners, as well. So, yeah, Hydro One has really come through with an innovative way to move projects forward. You know, Bruce Power has been at the forefront—I was out in Owen Sound last year when Makwa-Cahill was formed, a First Nations-led facility working with Bruce Power to fabricate parts for the nuclear sector and other parts of the energy sector as well. I think of the Watay Power Project, which, you know, we've been working on for quite some time. Making sure that 17 First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario have transmission lines and electricity going into their communities, so that they don't have to rely on diesel generators. Where it's getting more and more difficult to get that diesel to these fly-in communities. And when those lights go on from the electricity grid at Watay, it's a big, big moment for those communities. So, I've been able to celebrate a few milestones on that project, but many others. And I think there certainly is an understanding from those in the sector that First Nations need to be consulted early and often. A duty to consult is the bottom step.
Thank you. So, we have a few questions coming in from the audience, and one of them is around natural gas. So, I'm wondering about the individuals saying that the other day the Ontario Liberal Party introduced legislation that could be used to ban connections to natural gas for home heating. And wondering whether you would support this bill?
The Hon. Todd Smith
No. So, thank you, thank you for the question.
That was the question, that was the question.
The Hon. Todd Smith
Well, there'd be a lot of angry people if I did. Sixty-seven percent of homes out there are heated by natural gas. And I can tell you—and Stéphane, my Parliamentary Assistant, was with me—at the Ontario Municipality Association Conference, AMO, back in the summer, where we met with many, many, many municipalities from across Ontario who want to see expansion of natural gas into their community.
Phase two of our Natural Gas Expansion Program with Enbridge and EPCOR was a huge success, and way oversubscribed. And that's why, in the budget, we announced phase three of the Natural Gas Expansion Program. Because it is an affordable way, it's a reliable way, and it actually reduces emissions compared to other home heating sources when you factor in home heating fuel and propane into the mix. So, we're really excited about continuing consultation on the rollout of the third phase of the Natural Gas Expansion Program, because communities really do want it. We want more choice, we don't want less choice, right? So, we want more choice. That's our mantra.
And last year when we spoke, I remember you specifically talking about the potential impact for farmers when it comes to being able to have more access to natural gas. So, you know, when we hear a lot of discourse in the public. That people are concerned about, you know, natural gas, and just trying to, you know, sort of raise their concerns. It seems that there's maybe sort of not an understanding of how natural gas plays a role in supporting the move to electrification. Do you think that's one of the bigger sort of communication challenges as we, you know, like move towards a future of a reliable, sustainable, and affordable system?
The Hon. Todd Smith
It's a challenge for sure. But I think more and more people are starting to understand it. You need a small amount of natural gas in the electricity generation grid, as I mentioned in my remarks. And if you have that reliable system, and you're able to keep electricity rates flat like we've been able to do over the last couple of years to make electricity bills more affordable, that's going to encourage more people to electrify. Which is going to reduce emissions in other sectors, be it in transportation or home heating. We just rolled out a pilot with Enbridge, as Michele mentioned, to have hybrid, electric air heat pumps in people's homes, to reduce their use of natural gas where possible. And we've got it in four different municipalities across the province now. I hope to be able to roll it out in many more down the road. Because I think it's a great program, and it's another opportunity.
But if electricity prices soar, which they would—and it was the IESO that told us that in their report—by banning natural gas entirely from the grid, and make the electricity grid less stable, and have brownouts or blackouts, well, then nobody is going to want to electrify at that point. So, I think people—most people—are starting to understand that we do need natural gas in our grid. And diversity is what our grid is all about. You know, you're seeing in other jurisdictions that only have one source of energy the scramble that's going on. And you talk about Europe right now, and a lot of those landlocked European countries that were reliant on Russian natural gas alone. How is that working out for them? They're scrambling and now having to burn coal in their chimneys this winter to stay warm.
The diversity piece, I'm going to draw on that with asking you this question. Because it's, you know, we also talked last time a lot about the idea of like being agnostic when it comes to the technology, right? So, the question here is around if you could elaborate on Ontario's plan for a clean hydrogen economy. And what are we doing in terms of encouraging hydrogen development?
The Hon. Todd Smith
Yes, so we rolled out our hydrogen strategy in April, down at Niagara Falls. OPG has a project already underway there with Atura power, and I know Bruce Power has designs of a hydrogen plant of their own. There's all kinds of companies that are in the mix. Enbridge being one of them, with a pilot project in Markham, injecting hydrogen into the natural gas line. And so, there are many projects that are underway. I think what we wanted to do was signal to investors in Ontario that are looking at the hydrogen space, you know, we're open to development. Working with our regulators and ensuring that there's an opportunity for future hydrogen development.
When we were down at Niagara Falls that day, the Stuart family was there from Owen Sound. They run Hydrogen Optimized, and are building electrolysis units, and have great designs in making sure that hydrogen is available to help reduce carbon emissions in other sectors like shipping, as an example, or mass transportation. There's all kinds of opportunities for it. The numbers don't quite work yet, but I know Minister Wilkinson is a big fan of hydrogen. It's his favourite energy topic. Mine has been nuclear lately, his is hydrogen. But I think there's room for us to work on making hydrogen a bit more affordable and an opportunity to see hydrogen expansion in the province.
Well, since you said nuclear is your sort of recent favourite, I know you're a technology agnostic—and I don't want to pick any of your favourite children here—there's a question here around Ontario's commitment to nuclear, in terms of the sort of issues with domestic supply chains and thinking about what role the government can help in terms of supporting the industry, to ensure that the supply chain piece remains strong.
The Hon. Todd Smith
Well, we have an incredible supply chain in Ontario already. And in Canada, but largely here in Ontario. I believe 220 companies that Ron Oberth and Bill Walker represent with OCNI, that are employing thousands of people in our province. And it was great to be able to take to take Bill over to Europe with us. And he had the opportunity to meet with governments and businesses as well. Industry that are looking to move into the SMR space, the small modular reactor space nuclear space. We're very proud of our nuclear supply chain, and we're very proud of the decades of expertise that we have here in this province. Many of the countries and governments that we were talking to are new to the nuclear space. And to be able to have, you know, OPG or Laurentis Energy sitting at the table with us having these discussions—that have been operating nuclear for 60 years in our province and in our country, safely, reliably, and offering affordable electricity while employing thousands—is a great thing. And it's a great advantage that we have here in Ontario and have in Canada. So, my goal has been to get as many places as I can where they're considering nuclear and talking about our great supply chain, talk about our history and the opportunity that exists for them. Not just on small modular reactors, but CANDU technology as well.
So, just picking up on those points. A couple questions coming in about, you know, just at the end of the day, you know, how serious are these other countries when they're talking to you about buying SMRs, or like, working with Ontario on that technology. Given that we haven't built one yet?
The Hon. Todd Smith
Yeah, the world is watching what's happening at Darlington. I say it all the time, and it's so true. Countries like Poland have signed memorandums of understanding with BWXT, one of our great supply chain members out of the Cambridge and Peterborough area. They've signed MOUs with OPG in the Czech Republic, in Prague. We had an MOU signing there with the Laurentis and ČEZ, which is there a large utility in the Czech Republic. I would say some are further along in the process than others, but there's a great interest there. And they're all asking the right questions. When we were in Estonia, for example—obviously, bordering Russia, one of the Baltic countries—and meeting with their ministers and deputy ministers, or undersecretaries as they're called there, they're asking all of the right questions, and we're trying to get them all of the information that they need.
And I know that our regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, led by Rumina Velshi, is also reaching out. Because there's a tremendous opportunity here for our GDP in Ontario, and in Canada, to be an exporter of small modular reactors, and to employ thousands of people here. But also, to provide that stability and certainty, and create jobs in those jurisdictions as well. So, some of them are a little bit further along in the process and ready to make key decisions by signing MOUs and such, and then others are still testing the waters. But I think, you know, with elections in different countries, and we had the opportunity to meet with Latvian officials, Swedish officials, Romanian officials, on that trip. There's great interest in what's happening here.
And with your recent trip to the US, you know, from your perspective, is there anything sort of surprising that came up in the conversation?
The Hon. Todd Smith
Surprising. You know, as I was just saying to Clint from Bruce Power earlier, the nuclear world seems to be a relatively small world. And you see the same people all the time. So, there was a, I would say a tremendous celebration when I walked into the Hotel Washington reception last Wednesday night, after Minister Wilkinson and I had made the announcement that the Canada Infrastructure Bank was going to be supporting the SMR project at Darlington. There’s a great enthusiasm there, and a real collaboration between the United States and Canada. It's not just the GE Hitachi model that we're building at Darlington that has people excited. There's the X-energy 100-megawatt, small modular reactor that OPG has signed an operator agreement with. But there are a number of other technologies out there that, you know, our bright and innovative minds in North America are working on to give us, again, a diverse supply of electricity going forward that's emissions-free, and flexible, a flexible form of electricity, too.
So, I think we're pretty much at our time here, in terms of the, you know—I said this last time, too, we could go for probably three hours, there's so much happening. And I made this reference last time, too. I think that when I speak with colleagues that work in the energy sector, you know, when we talk about the scope of change, the pace of change, the terms that are thrown out to me are ‘unprecedented,’ you know, ‘tsunami of change,’ you know, all of these great descriptors. So, you know, as we wrap up, I guess the question for you is, you know, knowing that there’s so much on the go, what's really the one, some of the most exciting pieces for you looking forward for the next year?
The Hon. Todd Smith
I think the most exciting thing is there are so many innovative people in this province that are working at ways to solve the energy situation that we find ourselves in here. Some people like to call it an energy crisis. I call it an energy opportunity. And I think most people in this room probably agree, there is tremendous opportunity here. And there are so many innovative people that are working on different projects. You know, we have great collaboration with the Independent Electricity System Operator. The OEB Directive was sent to the Ontario Energy Board last week to provide some flexibility for new emerging technologies.
As you've said a couple of times, Kelly, we're agnostic. And the reason we are is because there are so many exciting things that are happening in our province, and so many interesting opportunities to help us meet the demand that we expect we will need to meet in the coming years. As we continue to see electrification, as we continue to grow our economy in Ontario, and as we continue to see increased population. Immigration is going to continue to happen, and we're expecting two million more Ontario residents in the next 10 years. So, they're going to require more power. So, it's going to require all of us working together to ensure that we have the megawatts that we're going to need to power those light bulbs in people's homes. And we're going to build a lot of homes too, so.
Awesome. Thank you so much for your time today. Really appreciate it.
The Hon. Todd Smith
Thank you so much for that insightful conversation, Minister. I’d now like to ask Megan Telford, Chief Human Resources Officer and Senior Leadership Executive Responsible for Corporate Affairs at Hydro One, to deliver some appreciation remarks. Megan, welcome.
Note of Appreciation by Megan Telford, Chief Human Resources Officer & Senior Leadership Executive Responsible for Corporate Affairs, Hydro One
Thank you very much, Kelly. So, Minister Smith, I'm going to start somewhere deeply personal. Which is, as the executive that inherited Deputy Fitzsimmons portfolio, my husband and kids are wondering if we could do a deal afterwards to borrow him back. But we're so pleased, actually, to hear your speech. And I love the way you ended, which is, instead of looking at this as a crisis, to look at it as opportunity. You know, there's two parts that you mentioned that I think are really worth doubling down on. And that is, the link between clean energy and opportunity in industry, and in jobs, both from a skilled labours perspective, and from all of you. You know, I'm relatively new to this industry. And what really draws most of us here is what Mr. Smith was talking about. The idea of the urgency of the situation, and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There is a deep connection between those. And really, when you look at electrification of industry and transportation, and increased demand, this is an unprecedented moment for all of us.
As a sector, together, we have a profound privilege to collaborate with government, and with each other, to meet this moment. Whether generation, transmission, distribution, storage suppliers, or skilled labour, we work together to serve Ontarians. Now, at Hydro One, you mentioned a number of critical announcements you've made recently about key projects. And we are proud to have the opportunity to deliver critical transmission to make those happen. I've heard it said recently—and I think this is so important—that there is no energy transition without transmission. And we are going about this the right way. Kelly, you mentioned our recent announcement, this historic and industry-leading 50/50 equity partnership model with First Nations for all new capital transmission line projects, with a value exceeding 100 million. We are exceptionally excited to partner with all of you, and work with governments, Indigenous communities, industry partners, and customers, to ensure that our system is reliable, affordable, and clean. That it is ready to empower economic growth and enable the energy transition. Thank you for inspiring us. Thank you for what your government is doing to bring these projects to life. We look forward to meeting the challenge. Thank you very much.
Concluding Remarks by Kelly Jackson
Thank you, Megan. Thank you again to Hydro One, Enbridge, Bruce Power, and all of our sponsors for your support. Thank you to Minister Smith for spending time with us today, and everybody who joined us in person and online. As a club of record, all Empire Club of Canada events are available to watch and listen to on demand on our website. The recording of this event will be available shortly, and everyone registered will receive an email with the link. We encourage you to share that link with those who think are interested in keeping this conversation going.
Our next event is actually tomorrow, Friday, November 4th. We will be joined by the Honourable Pierre Poilievre, Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, for a highly anticipated keynote. And next week, I invite you to join us virtually on November 10th. We have a very special Remembrance Day Reflection, which is focused on the extraordinary stories of Canadian women in war, during the First and Second World Wars. Thank you for joining us today. For those in the room, please feel free to stay, network—it's still great to be able to, you know, I think everyone's appreciating these times when we can be back together in person. And if you have a minute to stay, please do. I'm sure there are colleagues here that would love to chat with you. I wish everybody a great afternoon. Stay safe and take care.