Sunday, July 23, 2006

Natural gas lobby launches new PR campaign to gasify Nanticoke

It looks like Jack Gibbons, the never-say-die head of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, is back trying to land the juicy Nanticoke gas contract for his clients in the natural gas industry.

The July 21st Toronto Star wrote up the OCAA’s most recent report, in which Gibbons, furious with the McGuinty government for backing away from the reckless coal phase-out policy, desperately recycles his business case for converting the 3,800 megawatt coal-fired Nanticoke generating station to run on natural gas.

In spite of the obvious flaw in this proposition—switching to gas would drive electricity prices through the roof—the Star continues to give Gibbons a pass. Gibbons’s trademark anti-coal hyperbole permeates the report but is absent from the Star article, presumably for the sake of journalistic balance. Moreover, the article fails to mention a little nugget that might add some perspective to Gibbons’s anti-coal crusade: that the OCAA receives funding from Enbridge and Union Gas, Ontario’s two biggest gas distribution companies, and the biggest beneficiaries of any coal-to-gas conversion.

Electricity industry insiders have long known that the OCAA is pure “Astro-Turf”—i.e., a corporate lobby posing as a grassroots organization. (Astro-Turf is fake grass… you get the idea.) One Star writer, John Spears, did mention that Gibbons’s OCAA receives money from Enbridge, but that was over a year ago and the issue hasn’t come up since.

Converting Nanticoke to run on natural gas has been one of Gibbons’s fondest dreams since he launched the gas industry–funded OCAA in the late 1990s. His first crack at building a business case for the conversion was based on gas price forecasts provided by none other than Enron.

In this latest report, Gibbons has wisely dropped Enron from his list of cited references. But he still wants to be the smartest guy in the room. The current report is laden with the same tendentious and misleading assertions as its predecessors. Nuclear is described as “unreliable” even though it provides over half Ontario’s power and has offset hundreds of millions of tonnes of emissions. Coal supposedly kills 668 people a year, but motor vehicles, by far the biggest source category of air pollution in the province, don’t even get a mention—and this in a report from an organization calling itself the Clean Air Alliance. And Gibbons repeats the facile observation that Ontario’s per capita electricity consumption is higher than that of New York or California (it’s true, but so what—a huge portion of Ontario’s usage is by major consumers, who are also major employers and taxpayers).

When an organization ostensibly concerned about air pollution fails to mention the biggest in-province source, you have to wonder about its agenda. And you have to wonder about Canada’s biggest newspaper when it can’t, or doesn’t want to, distinguish real grass from Astro-Turf.

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