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Sitting on one of the hottest hot seats at Queen’s Park, Ontario’s energy minister is making a two-stop swing through the London region in the fallout of an especially rough week on the energy file.
Glenn Thibeault is expected in Chatham for an event with two civic-owned electricity distributors, serving Chatham-Kent and St. Thomas, which plan to merge, and later will tour an ethanol plant in Aylmer that plans a $120-million expansion.
The visits come after a tumultuous week on energy for the ruling Ontario Liberals, already under the spotlight for electricity prices that doubled in a decade until the province moved to cut rates by 25 per cent July 1.
Last Tuesday, one of four firms that set up green energy manufacturing plants in Ontario under a multibillion-dollar deal between the province and Korean industrial giant Samsung, announced it’s closing its Tillsonburg plant. Siemens, which partnered with Samsung, said it’s laying off more than 200 workers immediately, and the rest of the 340 will be gone by January when the wind turbine blade plant closes.
Then, Vancouver-based think-tank the Fraser Institute reported Ontario electricity price hikes have run more than double the national average over the last decade, heaping new fuel on the fire for opposition critics as the province heads into an election year.
In Chatham, Thibeault is expected to discuss a proposed merger — already approved by the two companies, and the two civic councils, but still needing Ontario Energy Board approval — to combine St. Thomas Energy Inc., and Entegrus Powerlines Inc., into what would be the province’s 11th-largest power distributor, with 58,000 customers.
A wave of sell-offs and mergers in the electrical business in Ontario, including takeovers by giant Hydro One, has reduced the number of municipal utilities in the province from hundreds a generation ago to dozens now, including in the Southwest where London Hydro remains the largest such player without a dance partner.
In Aylmer, Thibeault is to tour IGPC Ethanol Inc., which makes ethanol from corn and is doubling production in a move the company has said will create 25 jobs.
Not a decade old, the $160-million plant is owned by the Integrated Grain Processors Co-operative that has more than 800 shareholders in Southwestern Ontario.
After Siemens announced the Tillsonburg plant closing, Thibeault said he’s confident green energy will remain a key part of Ontario’s economy and energy supply.
The company cited dried-up orders and industry demand for larger blades than it can produce as factors in the closing.
The Samsung deal also brought green
energy plants to Windsor, where CS Wind makes turbine towers, London and Toronto, where Canadian Solar and SMA, respectively, make solar energy components.
Thibeault also will be in Kitchener-Waterloo Monday, a spokesperson for the minister said by e-mail Sunday.
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