The public did not get the "full story" on the cancellation of two gas-fired power plants, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne conceded, as the price tag for kiboshing the projects ballooned to nearly $600-million.
During a 90-minute session in front of a legislative committee Tuesday, the Premier denied playing any role in the decision to axe the plants in Oakville and Mississauga.
Despite serving as a high-ranking cabinet minister and vice-chair of the Liberals' 2011 election campaign, Ms. Wynne said she did not take part in discussions to end the plants and only learned of the decision to stop the Mississauga project through media reports. She also asserted she had no knowledge of the full cost of the cancellations.
"You didn't get the full story, I didn't get the full story, the people of Ontario didn't get the full story," she told the committee.
Ms. Wynne mostly held her own as she was grilled by the opposition, but at one point got into a heated exchange with Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod. The Tories repeatedly suggested the government must have known more about the cost to cancel the Oakville plant than Ms. Wynne was letting on. The Premier snapped back that the Ontario Power Authority did not give the government the total cost.
"I'm as frustrated as anyone around this table," she said, raising her voice. "I did not know that. I did not know what the number was."
But earlier in the day, OPA chief executive Colin Andersen told committee the government was aware cancelling the Oakville project would cost more than the $40-million figure cited by the Liberals.
That lower number included only sunk costs – money the power plant contractor spent on such things as land to build the plant on and engineers to design it. The figure excluded the substantial extra costs of getting the power from elsewhere.
Since the plant was killed, the government will have to build a new facility near Napanee in Eastern Ontario. It will cost more to ship gas to the Napanee plant and to pipe power from there to Greater Toronto than it would have had the plant been built in the GTA.
These extra costs total over $1-billion by the OPA's calculations. They are offset by money the government will save after negotiating a better rate for the power. Once savings are subtracted, the total is about $310-million.
Mr. Andersen said the existence of these additional costs was well known.
"Who knew it was more than $40-million?" asked Tory MPP Vic Fedeli.
"Everyone," Mr. Andersen replied.
NDP MPP Peter Tabuns, meanwhile, slammed the government for allowing power plants in Tory and New Democrat ridings – including one in his east Toronto constituency – while stopping projects in Liberal-held areas.
The province's Auditor-General reported this month that cancelling the Mississauga plant cost $275-million. Together, ending both projects totalled $585-million.
The government put the brakes on the unpopular plants in what was widely seen as a play to hold on to seats in the 2011 election.
Ms. Wynne defended that decision – arguing that her party was right to bow to pressure from local residents – but said she "regretted" the situation. The government, she said, should never have allowed the plants to move forward in the first place.
"The siting of these two plants failed to take into account the views of the community," she said. "Despite expert advice, despite an open procurement process and all the decision points along the way, the overall process failed."