The giant utility already has scrubbers on two of four coal-burning units at its Lambton station and on two of eight units at the huge Nanticoke generating station Â— considered one of the worst sources of air pollution in North America.
The Liberal government was reluctant to install scrubbers when it originally promised in 2003 to close OntarioÂ’s four remaining coal-fired stations by 2007, and even later when it pushed that deadline back to at least 2011.
The Ontario Power Authority has recommended the government keep the coal plants around on standby until 2014 before they can be permanently mothballed.
Â“Well, if you assume that they close down in 2014 as the legislation calls for, obviously the payback would not be very good from an economic point of view,Â”Hankinson said after appearing before a legislative committee.
Hankinson admitted Â“emissions could be reduced very substantiallyÂ” if the anti-pollution equipment was installed at the coal-burning plants but added that OPG makes a habit of using the worst polluting equipment as a last resort.
Â“Obviously we would run the units that have the (anti-pollution) equipment on them first and only in those circumstances where thereÂ’s need would we run the other ones.Â”
NDP Leader Howard Hampton agreed scrubbers would be a waste of money and said the province should spend its cash on incentive programs for consumers to lower demand for electricity.
The coal plants were used less often last year because of OntarioÂ’s mild weather and Hampton said they would be used even less in the future if homes and businesses were given help to become more energy efficient.
Â“Instead of spending billions of dollars on scrubbers we should have an incentive strategy for homeowners, for shop owners, for school boards and for industry to start retrofitting their operations so we actually provide the financial incentive to use less electricity,Â” said Hampton.
Â“WeÂ’re better off to spend $1.5 billion to provide those kind of incentives... than to put money on scrubbers that may only be used for, say, 10 years.Â”
The watchdog group Energy Probe said Ontario should be exploring the latest technologies to burn so-called clean coal to reduce emissions from the electricity plants.
Â“The technology for coal-fired utilization is making some rapid progress with intense public and industrial support in many parts of the world (including) the United States, Europe and Japan,Â” said executive director Tom Adams.
Â“We can now with existing, off-the-shelf technology, virtually eliminate conventional pollutants from coal-fired generation.Â”
A spokesman for Energy Minister Dwight Duncan said the government compares the installation of scrubbers on coal stacks to Â“putting filters on cigarettes,Â” and said clean-coal technology is not ready yet.
Â“Reports from around the globe indicate so-called clean-coal technology Â— if it is proven able to fully capture CO2 emissions Â— wouldnÂ’t be commercially viable until very late into the next decade,Â” said DuncanÂ’s communications advisor, Steve Erwin.