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Liberal Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli speaks in Toronto on April 15, 2013.

MATTHEW SHERWOOD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The price of electricity is set to rise steadily in Ontario over the next two decades, with the most dramatic increases in the next five years.

The province's long-term energy plan, released Monday, projects a 42-per-cent jump in home power bills by 2018, climbing to 68 per cent by 2032. The cost for industrial enterprises will also rise, by 33 per cent in the next five years and 55 per cent in the next 20.

These totals, however, are lower than the government's previous projections, in part because the province cancelled plans to build new nuclear plants.

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Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli's blueprint is modest, focused on conserving electricity to reduce the growth in demand. The minority Liberals have been stung in recent years by costly decisions to cancel two gas-fired power plants, and raised the ire of rural Ontarians with pricey green-energy projects that saw wind turbines built across the countryside.

Calculating that the province will have an energy surplus for the foreseeable future, the government is now mostly holding off on building major energy infrastructure.

"We believe it's a balanced approach; it's a smart approach not to invest billions of dollars into the system that we don't need," Mr. Chiarelli said after presenting the plan in the legislature.

The document is also flexible, giving the government some wiggle room to change its plans and projections. From now on, for instance, the province will update its plans every year.

Instead of building new nuclear plants, the plan concludes that refurbishing 10 reactors at Darlington Nuclear Generating Station and Bruce Power, starting in 2016, will be cheaper. Nuclear power would supply 42 per cent of the province's electricity in 2025, down from 59 per cent this year. Gas-fired generation is also projected to decrease slightly over the next 20 years.

The difference would be made up in part by wind power, which would nearly triple by 2032, with the government scheduled to seek bids for new turbines next year. Hydro-electricity generation is projected to climb a little over 16 per cent.

Bruce Power, the private-sector company that operates the 6,300-megawatt, eight-reactor site on Like Huron, has finished refurbishing two units at the site, and those projects went over budget. James Scongack, vice-president for corporate affairs, said the company is confident it can complete future projects on time and on budget, but will need to persuade its shareholders to invest.

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"This plan really reaffirms that the role we built to is an important component of the supply mix going forward," he said in an interview. "It's a recognition that we're moving in the right direction at Bruce and now it is about securing that 6,300 megawatts for the long term."

Provincially owned Ontario Power Generation is expected to begin refurbishing four units at its Darlington site by late 2016.

In case Bruce and the OPG cannot do their refurbishments on time and on budget, the energy plan laid out "off-ramps," for the government, said Shawn Patrick Stensil, a researcher with Greenpeace Canada. "That's significant." For instance, the province signalled it could forgo some of the nuclear refurbishment if it can get the power cheaper elsewhere, including importing it from Quebec.

The plan relies largely on controlling consumer demand. Among other things, the province will help people retrofit their homes to make them more energy-efficient by paying for the retrofit up front, with the consumer then paying the government back through hydro bills.

It was not clear, however, how much of the cooler demand forecast is due to conservation efforts and how much is the result of a sluggish economy.

"We are now the only jurisdiction in the world that thinks an economic downturn is a conservation plan," Progressive Conservative energy critic Lisa MacLeod said Monday.

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New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath, meanwhile, argued it would be cheaper to run power through government agencies instead of bringing in private companies to refurbish nuclear reactors. She slammed the plan as "more of the same blind faith in private power mega-deals that drive up energy costs."

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