Smitherman spoke to a crowd of several hundred in a Mississauga town hall meeting to discuss Ontario's plan for a new natural gas power plant it will locate in Oakville, Mississauga or Etobicoke.
"There's no single bigger contribution we can make to Ontarians than the elimination of coal-fired generation," Smitherman said.
While many of the questions did not focus on the location of this plant, Smitherman said the region needs the plant because it consumes more energy than it creates.
When asked about the consultation for power plants in other Toronto regions,he said, "I guess nobody really wants energy plants in their community. It doesn't negate the need that we have."
The town hall was held at Mississauga's Living Arts Centre.
As expected, it was a tough crowd.
Smitherman is not new to controversy; he managed the demanding health ministry for five years. But provincial plans to build gas power plants to expand the GTA's supply have sparked an outcry from community groups across the region.
The Ontario Power Authority says a new plant is needed to replace the coal-fired Lakeview Generating Station in Port Credit, which was shut down in 2005 and later demolished. The site was considered the prime location for a gas-fired plant until a citizens' group campaigned successfully against it.
The OPA is now seeking a new location for roughly 850 megawatts of power generation, in south Etobicoke, Mississauga or Oakville. On Oct. 2, it issued a request for qualifications for energy companies interested in bidding on the project. (The OPA has said the region's demands are growing twice as fast as the provincial average but did not respond to a request for figures.)
The short list of companies will be announced early next year, when proposals are requested. OPA spokesperson Jerry Crown said a winner will be contracted in June.
Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish said she believes the most obvious location is a Mississauga site on Southdown Rd., near Lakeshore Rd. W., a site Mayor Hazel McCallion has said she opposes. The mayor has said it is time for Etobicoke or Oakville to take a plant, saying Mississauga is getting a 280-megawatt gas-fired plant near Dixie Rd. and Queensway E.
But Parrish believes the south Mississauga site, owned by Sithe Global Power is a strong contender because the company has already done numerous studies on locating a plant there and has also held community meetings on its plans.
"They are quantum leaps ahead of anyone else," Parrish said, adding she's been told other firms didn't prepare new sites because they believed Lakeview would be chosen.