On Thursday the province announced it has directed Ontario Power Authority to negotiate an agreement with Ontario Power Generation, the plant’s owners, to buy the power produced at the Atikokan plant.
MPP Bill Mauro (Lib., Thunder Bay-Atikokan) said with the plant making up 40 per cent of Atikokan’s municipal tax base, the province’s decision to keep it open means the town’s survival.
"For us to close that in my opinion…would have been a serious blow to the community and in fact their ability to survive as a community would have been in question," Mauro said.
Over the last six years, converting the plant to bio-mass and keeping the plant open was not a "foregone conclusion" and took a lot of fighting to make it happen, Mauro said.
The conversion, a three-year process, will create 200 construction jobs and many of the 90 jobs at the plant will be saved. In addition 20-to-25 related jobs at a nearby pellet plant, which will produce the biomass needed to produce the electricity, will be created.
The province has set a 2014 deadline to eliminate all coal-fired power generation in Ontario.
"This is the beginning of an exciting new future for the Atikokan plant and the community," said Energy Minister Brad Duguid in a release issued Thursday. "With its conversion to biomass, we’re helping to build a made-in-Ontario industry, adding a new source of clean energy and supporting local jobs."
Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown called it splendid news for his community and he thanked the province for making it happen.
"It shows that they really care about Atikokan and Northwestern Ontario and we thank them very much for this."
Mauro said he’s not sure what the announcement means for other coal plants in the province. But closing a coal plant in Southern Ontario wouldn’t have the same economic impact it would on a place like Atikokan.
"I think there are decisions yet to be made when it comes to all of the other coal plants in the province," Mauro said. "It think you’ll see some conversions and I think it’s likely you’re going to see some closures."