Hawthorne answers questions during "virtual" town hall meeting
By Liz Dadson
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A relaxed and engaging Duncan Hawthorne, president and chief executive officer of Bruce Power, answered numerous questions about the past year's activities and the future of the company, during the first-ever "virtual" town hall meeting Tuesday night.
About 10,000 people from Bruce, Huron and Grey counties listened in to the conversation over the telephone, and were encouraged to ask questions.
In his opening statement, Hawthorne said 2013 was a transformational year as the Bruce Nuclear site was returned to its full potential. It now provides 6,300 megawatts (MW) of electricity - 30 per cent of Ontario's demand and 50 per cent of the province's nuclear power.
"With the return-to-service of four Bruce A units over the past decade, Bruce Power has also provided the province with 70 per cent of the carbon-free energy it needs to shut down all coal generation stations, resulting in cleaner air and healthier lives for Ontario residents," said Hawthorne.
While the company is proud of its
accomplishments over the past year, Hawthorne gives credit to the
superb workforce and the supportive community.
In responding to questions, Hawthorne was courteous and knowledgeable, even with respect to projects, such as the used-nuclear-fuel Deep Geologic Repository (DGR), which is not under Bruce Power's jurisdiction.
The DGR for used-fuel is under the direction of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), he said
In addition, the Western Waste Management Facility is operated by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) which is currently seeking approval for a DGR to house low-level and intermediate-level nuclear waste at the Bruce Nuclear site.
"We are not directly involved," said Hawthorne, "but I will tell you that there are nuclear waste facilities in the world. Sweden built the first DGR, and there are repositories in Japan and France."
When asked why there are not more nuclear generating stations in Ontario, Hawthorne admitted the current energy-supply needs in the province are strange.
"The province has made an investment in wind and solar, and we've seen a fair amount of it in this region," he said. "We appear to be over-supplied, but on a day like today when it's incredibly cold, Bruce Power is running at full power. Nuclear is incredibly reliable, providing 65-70 per cent of Ontario's energy needs."
As for building new generation stations, Hawthorne said the nuclear industry, itself, said there was not a business case for new-build. It makes more sense to refurbish existing nuclear reactors.
Ontario's long-term energy plan will see a $20-billion investment in nuclear over the next 10-15 years, he said.
A question was asked about the priorities for Bruce Power over the next two to five years.
Hawthorne said the company has promised it would not do anything to surprise the community, as happened in the late 1990s when Bruce A was mothballed by Ontario Hydro.
"That shocked the community," he said, "and we said we would never do that."
Over the next two to five years, Bruce Power will be operating at full capacity with all eight units at Bruce A and B in service, said Hawthorne.
This year, the company will be negotiating a new contract with the Ontario Power Authority, he said, and then investing $15-billion in the Bruce Nuclear site, beginning August, 2016, with the refurbishment of Units 3 and 4. This will extend the life of the nuclear plant to about 2050.
Hawthorne was asked if additional industrial wind turbine developments in the Kincardine area will affect plans to refurbish Units 3 and 4.
He said the recently-completed Bruce-to-Milton transmission corridor is sufficient to handle the full life of the Bruce Nuclear site, plus about 1,300 MW of wind development.
That's why that upgrade was so important, he said.
When asked if investment in Bruce A will mean increases in electricity rates, Hawthorne explained that the rates will increase regardless, because the local distribution companies, such as Westario Power, need to improve their infrastructure.
With regard to education and employment opportunities at Bruce Power, Hawthorne said that if he were advising his own child, he would say follow a technical career because that is an exciting industry.
"We're at the forefront of robotics and we're helping local schools with their robotics teams," he said. "Pursue science and technical skills."
He said Bruce Power is hiring every other week, but people must be persistent. For every ad for 10 technical job openings, the company receives 2,000 applications.
In response to a question, pointing out that building new generating stations is about the same cost as wind turbine developments, Hawthorne agreed, saying the cost of new-build would not come close to the six cents/kilowatt-hour (kWh) that it costs to supply nuclear power right now.
"Refurbishing nuclear plants is about 30 per cent of the cost for new-build," he said. "That's why it's more cost-effective to refurbish and extend the life of the nuclear reactors we already have."
When asked about how Bruce Power takes care of disposal of the nuclear waste, Hawthorne said the company leases the Bruce Nuclear operating site from OPG, and it's OPG's job to ensure proper disposal of the waste.
Bruce Power makes an annual payment to the province, said Hawthorne, and included in that is a payment toward the full decommissioning cost of the site, and a payment to OPG which equates to 0.92 cents per MW for disposing of the spent fuel.
With regard to spurious comments about Bruce Power and the nuclear industry in the media, Hawthorne mildly replied that the media often don't let the facts get in the way of a good story.
But seriously, he said the company has to decide who the important stakeholders are and ensure they have factual information.
"That's why we're holding this town hall meeting so you can get the truth out there, from me answering your questions," said Hawthorne.
After a couple of more questions, the town hall meeting moderator wrapped up the event and said that further questions would be recorded and answered later.
"I'm overwhelmed by the participation in this our first virtual town hall meeting," said Hawthorne. "It's a forum that works for us. We appreciate everyone who took the time to listen and ask questions - after all, you could have been out shovelling snow."
The moderator of the event also noted that Bruce Power has released its annual review. To read that document, click here.
In addition, as part of Bruce Power's ongoing communication efforts, the company continues to look for new ways to engage with the community and uses many communication vehicles to share information about Bruce Power.
To that end, it has added a new feature on the website, where people can sign up to receive regular E-mail updates about the company. This feature can be found on the community page of the website, at www.brucepower.com/community.
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Tuesday, January 28, 2014