The end of an era: Ontario Power Generation closes Lambton Generating Station forever

Lambton Generating Station in Courtright.

The dream of repurposing Lambton Generating Station is over.

Ontario Power Generation announced Tuesday it will be decommissioning the plant which once employed 700 people in St. Clair Township.

The coal-fired plant was closed in 2013 as part of the Ontario Liberal government’s plan to phase out coal power in the province. There are only 25 workers on the site along the St. Clair River, now. They were there to keep the plant in working order as OPG tried to figure out if it could be repurposed.

For some time, the Power Workers Union, farm groups and environmentalists advocated retooling the plant to use biomass from corn and wheat in the area or converting the plant to natural gas. As late as this year, St. Clair Mayor Steve Arnold was optimistic that would still happen.

But OPG says it simply doesn’t need to generate more power and LGS is costing hydro users money. It estimates once the buildings are removed, it will save hydro users about $11 million a year.

Don McCabe, the past president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture was one of the people advocating for the plant to be converted. “As a consumer of power in Ontario, I totally understand the issue; if you don’t require an asset to create power don’t keep it around,” he says.

“Maybe the cost of conversion is too excessive.”

But McCabe says the province is missing a golden opportunity to pair with innovators in biochemistry in Sarnia by shutting down LGS.

“It is damn disappointing we can’t think of ways to maximize those facilities in the future,” he tells The Independent.

“I’m hoping there is an opportunity to revisit this decision in the future if there is a viable business case.”

That seems unlikely. OPG says while it will take some time to come up with a plan. It will decommission the plant and remove the four buildings on the site. “Options for repurposing it will be reviewed over the long term,” OPG says in a news release.

“We are grateful to the communities surrounding Lambton GS for their years of support and engagement in our operations,” said Mike Martelli, OPG’s President of Renewable Generation and Power Marketing in a news release. “I want to thank the employees who operated the station safely and maintained it since its closure.”

While the news spells the end of the idea of using natural gas or corn and wheat stover for fuel, it also throws a shadow on the bottom line for St. Clair Township.

Over the years LGS has been one of the municipality’s largest taxpayers. Recently, St. Clair has been fighting with The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation and OPG about the devaluation of the property.

Since the operation began to wind down the municipality has lost $2.8 million in tax revenue. The property was originally valued at $56 million. At last word OPG was trying to have the property valued at $12 million.

At the time OPG started the tax reassessment, the company owned 1,000 acres along with the four buildings. Without the buildings standing, it is unclear what the value of the property would be exactly but vacant land is taxed at a much lower rate than land with buildings.