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Space Centre at Downsview and Hydro Bills

News of interest keep accumulating! This time, a space centre is being built in the Downsview Park and he hear an explanation on hydro bills.

Of all these news, the best is undoubtedly about the Downsview Park.

It is great to learn that new investment comes to our community, even though it’s a few minutes of driving away (mn-cent).

Centennial College will build a new aerospace campus at the old Downsview air force base with $44.2 million from the federal and Ontario governments, better linking students with the industry.

“We’re trying to break down the barriers,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday in announcing the funding with federal Science Minister Kirsty Duncan.

Ontario taxpayers are providing $25‎.8 million toward the $72 million project slated to open in 2019, with the federal government ponying up $18.4 million and Centennial College and other donors making up the remaining $28 million.

The campus will include the historic de Havilland building — where 1,000 lightweight two-engine Mosquito bombers were made in the Second World War.

“You could say this is hallowed ground,” said Centennial president Ann Buller, who added the campus at Downsview Park just east of Keele and Sheppard will help “good jobs flourish in a part‎ of the city that needs them.”

The location will help Centennial’s aerospace program, now operating in cramped quarters in Scarborough, strengthen already close ties with aircraft manufacturer Bombardier, Buller told about 100 students, educators and aerospace industry members gathered in a restaurant on the old air force base closed in 1996.

The college will triple the number of students in its aerospace program with the new quarters, said Duncan.

That will boost the country’s and the province’s reputation for being part of the “knowledge” economy, added Wynne, who will tout the project on a trade mission to Asia later this month.

“If we’re going to punch above our weight, we have to innovate,” the premier said after a tour of the site in the unexpected blast of winter weather.

“It will incubate and grow well paying jobs and professionally rewarding jobs.”

The campus was hailed as a “first step” toward ‎the creation of a better “hub” of aerospace activity in the area by Andrew Petrou, executive director of the Downsview Aerospace Innovation and Research consortium of educational institutions and companies.

The group estimates such a hub can lead to the creation of 14,400 jobs and $2.3 billion in economic activity over the next 20 years.

“The opportunity that Downsview provides for companies, colleges, and universities to work together in close proximity on aerospace education, research and product development cannot be overstated,” said David Zingg, a professor at the University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies.

It is a partner in the Downsview aerospace consortium along with Centennial, York and Ryerson Universities, and eight companies including Pratt and Whitney Canada, Honeywell and Bombardier Aerospace.

We’ve all felt the higher hydro bills, one way or another.

Here’s an explanation as to why the hydro bills are higher (cbc-hydro).

Premier Kathleen Wynne grabbed some attention this weekend by admitting a mistake.

It's not something politicians do all that often. When they do, you can be assured there's a darned good reason. In Wynne's case, it looks like she's trying to neutralize — or at least lessen — the damage that skyrocketing hydro bills are doing to her popularity.  

"I take responsibility as leader for not paying close enough attention to some of the daily stresses in Ontarians' lives," Wynne told the Ontario Liberal Party's annual general meeting, held in Ottawa. "Electricity prices are the prime example."

Wynne defended Liberal government moves to make Ontario's electricity system cleaner and more stable, but admitted that the cost "has burdened people in every corner" of the province.

"People have told me that they've had to choose between paying the electricity bill and buying food or paying rent," Wynne said. "It is unacceptable that people in Ontario could be facing that choice. So our government made a mistake. It was my mistake. And I'm going to do my best to fix it."  

Yet "fixing" high hydro prices is no easy task.

"It's not a simple system, it is a complex system," Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault said Monday, when pressed by reporters for specifics about the premier's weekend promise "to find more ways to lower rates and reduce the burden on consumers."

Thibeault is ruling out another taxpayer-funded subsidy beyond the promised rebate of the provincial portion of the HST (eight per cent), starting in January. 

So that means chipping away at the factors that actually drive costs in the hydro system. 

Here are the key reasons why your hydro bills are so high and why it'll be a challenge for the Wynne government to lower them enough that you notice.

1. Oversupply of power

Ontario's electricity producers are generating more power than we consume in the province. But the government is locked into contracts to purchase that power regardless. It sells off the excess to the U.S., at rates below the cost of production. And even though you aren't consuming that power, you still have to pay for your share of it every month (through a line on your power bill called the "global adjustment").

"This dynamic is made worse because demand keeps falling," said Greenpeace energy campaigner Shawn-Patrick Stensil. "Covering the cost of this excess surplus supply is spread over fewer kilowatt hours." He argues the government could solve the excess power problem in one stroke by taking the entire Pickering nuclear station offline.

Cancelling power contracts seems an easy solution — but not a cheap one: remember it cost $1 billion to cancel those infamous gas-fired power plants in Mississauga and Oakville.    

2. Pricey green energy

Wind, solar and bio-energy account for 6.3 per cent of total electricity generated in the province, but 16.3 per cent of the total generation cost, according to the auditor general's recent investigation into hydro prices. Auditor Bonnie Lysyk criticized the government for offering overly generous contracts when it launched its big green energy push in 2009. Despite shifting gears to a competitive bidding process, the auditor found that in 2014, Ontario was still paying "double the market price for wind and 3½ times the market price for solar energy."  

3. Weakened energy watchdog

The Ontario Energy Board is the independent body that regulates electricity pricing in the province, but not all electricity pricing. It has little ability to control the price paid to electricity generators, other than Ontario Power Generation's nuclear plants at Pickering and Darlington and most of OPG's hydroelectric dams. Anytime OPG wants to increase these prices, it has to seek approval from the board. 

Glenn Thibeault

Ontario will rebate the eight per cent provincial portion of the HST off hydro bills starting in January. Other than that, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault is ruling out further taxpayer-funded subsidies to lower electricity rates. (Pierre-Olivier Bernatchez/CBC)

But the OEB does not have that power over private producers. They negotiate prices directly with the government and have negotiated some rather profitable contracts, since that is their motive. They now account for about half of all the electricity generated in Ontario, therefore a significant chunk of your hydro bill is out of the reach of the regulator that's supposed to protect the interests of consumers.  

4. Time of use pricing

Ontario brought in smart meters to allow for variable pricing of electricity during the day, with the aim of driving down consumption during times of high use by raising the prices substantially during those peak periods. The move has had little effect on peak demand, according to an analysis commissioned by the government's Independent Electricity System Operator. It means that we're still consuming plenty of electricity during those peak periods, and paying a lot more for it than before smart meters arrived.   

5. Well-paid hydro workers

The latest edition of the Sunshine List includes 7,632 employees of Ontario Power Generation. Their earnings total $1.07 billion. The last time Hydro One workers were on the Sunshine List (in 2014), there were 4,279 employees, with salaries totalling $550 million. The auditor general flagged in 2013 that generous salaries, pensions and benefits at OPG — especially among top executives — were partly to blame for rising hydro prices.

And finally, some news about trees cutting and bylaws violations.

Sources / More info: mn-cent, cbc-hydro

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