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Ontario Hydro

Ontario Hydro
Industry Electrical generation, distribution
Fate Broken into five separate businesses
Successor Ontario Power Generation, Hydro One, Independent Electricity System Operator, Electrical Safety Authority, Ontario Electricity Financial Corporation
Founded 1906
Defunct 1999
Headquarters Toronto, Ontario

Ontario Hydro, established in 1906 as the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario, was a publicly owned electricity utility in the Province of Ontario. It was formed to build transmission lines to supply municipal utilities with electricity generated by private companies already operating at Niagara Falls, and soon developed its own generation resources by buying private generation stations and becoming a major designer and builder of new stations. As most of the readily developed hydroelectric sites became exploited, the corporation expanded into building coal-fired generation and then nuclear-powered facilities. Renamed as "Ontario Hydro" in 1974, by the 1990s it had become one of the largest, fully integrated electricity corporations in North America.


  • Origins 1
  • Power at cost 2
  • Involvement in electric railways 3
  • Expansion 4
  • Nuclear age 5
  • Overcapacity and cost overruns 6
  • Break-up 7
  • Further reading 8
  • See also 9
  • Notes 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


The notion of generating electric power on the Niagara River was first entertained in 1888, when the Niagara Parks Commission solicited proposals for the construction of an electric scenic railway from Queenston to Chippawa. The Niagara Falls Park & River Railway was granted the privilege in 1892, and by 1900 it was using a dynamo of 200,000 horsepower (150,000 kW) which was the largest in Canada.[1] Starting in 1899, several private syndicates sought privileges from the commission for generating power for sale, including:[2]

By 1900, a total capacity of 400,000 horsepower (300,000 kW) was in development at Niagara, and concern was expressed as to whether such natural resources were being best exploited for the public welfare.[3] In June 1902, an informal convention was held at 1905 election that work began on creating a public utility. During that election campaign, James Pliny Whitney (who would be the eventual incoming Premier) declared:

Power at cost

In May 1906, the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario ("Hydro" or "HEPCO") was formed[6] and its first commissioners were Adam Beck, John S. Hendrie, and Cecil B. Smith,[7] HEPCO was a unique hybrid of a government department, crown corporation and municipal cooperative that coexisted with the existing private companies. It was a "politically rational" rather than a "technically efficient" solution that depended on the watershed election of 1905.[8]

On January 1, 1907, referendums in Toronto and 18 other municipalities approved the provisional contracts that their councils had concluded with HEPC,[9] and subsequent referendums one year later authorized utility bond issues for the construction of local distribution systems.[10] The victories in Toronto were in large part due to the leadership and commitment of Adam Beck's ally, William Peyton Hubbard.[11] The first transmission lines began providing power to southwestern Ontario in 1910.

The Commission's process of expansion was from municipality to municipality, generally in the following manner:[12]

  • the municipal council would approach the Commission, expressing its interest in establishing a local distribution system;
  • Hydro engineers would then visit the municipality to assess current facilities and probable total load, before producing estimates as to the total cost of extending transmission lines to the municipal boundary, the delivered price of power, and building or upgrading the community's distribution system;
  • if the council agreed, a provisional contract would be negotiated between the council and the Commission, subject to ratification by the voters;
  • upon successful ratification, thirty-year debentures would be issued by the municipality to cover construction and equipment expenses, and Hydro would then build a tie line to the nearest point in its network.

During the 1920s, Hydro's network saw significant expansion:

  • In September 1921, Hydro acquired the Toronto Electric Light Company, together with various railway interests, thus making it the largest electric power system in the world.[13]
  • In 1921 and 1924, legislative amendments authorized grant-in-aid programs that encouraged rural electrification in Ontario through reducing unit rates in the areas to be served.[14]
  • By the end of the 1920s, most remaining private power producers were unable to withstand any expansion by Hydro into their service area, and some survived only because Hydro did not see the need to enter their markets.[15]

In 1926, the Henry government in the 1934 Ontario election, to be succeeded by that of Mitchell Hepburn.[19]

In 1939, the commission received authority to regulate all other electricity generators, thus bringing all private utilities in the province under its supervision. It also received authority to acquire any utility that was not producing at its capacity.[20][21]

In 1948, HEPCO changed most of its system from 25 Hz to 60 Hz. However, the Fort Erie area south of Niagara Falls stayed on the remaining 25 Hz generators until 1966, and this area had electricity throughout the 1965 Eastern Seaboard Blackout.

By the 1950s the commission was operating as a single integrated system. As demand rose in the post-war period, Ontario Hydro started expanding its generation system bringing on line many new hydroelectric stations. In 1953, Ontario Hydro began to interconnect with other utilities, the first interconnection being the Keith-Waterman line in Windsor which crosses the Detroit River to Detroit, Michigan interconnecting with Detroit Edison in the United States. This line was originally constructed at 120,000 volts and was later upgraded to 230,000 volts in 1973. Shortly thereafter, other interconnections with New York State were built. The first coal-fired generating stations in the system were also built in this period. The expansion of coal continued during the 1960s and 1970s but was overtaken by the development of nuclear power.

Involvement in electric railways

In 1912, Adam Beck began to promote the creation and operation of electric interurban railways in the territory served by the commission, and the Legislative Assembly granted authority to do so in the Hydro-Electric Railway Act, 1914.[22] Changes in government policy and public sentiment in the 1920s restricted their development, and all such operations ceased in the 1930s (with the exception of the Hamilton Street Railway streetcar system, which continued until 1946).[23]


In the 1960s, HEPCO was the first utility in North America to utilize ultra-high voltage transmission lines. Planning for the UHV lines began in 1960 and in 1967, HEPCO put into service transmission lines carrying 500,000 volts that carry power from hydroelectric sources in remote Northern Ontario to high load areas in southern Ontario such as Toronto, London, and Ottawa. By 1970 all but the most remote municipal power systems in Ontario were organized into a single grid. During the 1970s and 1980s, Ontario Hydro gradually expanded the 500 kV transmission system into what it is today.

Before its own nuclear power stations started coming onstream, Ontario Hydro had the following capacity and output:[24]

Ontario Hydro's power resources (1969)
Power source Type Dependable capacity (GW) Annual energy output
Generated Hydro-electric 5.8 32,662.5 GWh (117,585,000 GJ)
Thermal-electric 4.7 18,771.4 GWh (67,577,040 GJ)
Purchased Hydro-electric 0.5 6,503.5 GWh (23,412,600 GJ)
Nuclear 0.2 411.5 GWh (1,481,400 GJ)
Total 11.2 62,448.9 GWh (224,816,040 GJ)

In 1974 the commission was reconstituted as a crown corporation known as Ontario Hydro,[25] which had previously been the commission's nickname. In many Canadian provinces, including Ontario, hydroelectric power is so common that "hydro" has become synonymous with electric power regardless of the actual source of the electricity.

Nuclear age

The Bruce B nuclear generating station.

By the late 1950s the corporation also started getting involved in development, design and construction of CANDU nuclear power stations, with the first commercial sized one coming on line in 1965 at Douglas Point.

During the 1960s and 1970s Ontario Hydro's nuclear generating program expanded with the building of the first four units of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station followed by stations at Bruce Nuclear Generating Station and a second four units at Pickering. By the late 1980s, Ontario Hydro operated one of the largest fleets of nuclear-powered generating stations in the world.

Ontario Hydro nuclear power stations
Station Units In service Status
Nuclear Power Demonstration 1 1962 Decommissioned in 1987
Douglas Point 1 1968 Decommissioned in 1984 and located next to Bruce NGS; site leased to Bruce Power by OPG; equipment owned by AECL
Bruce 1–4 1977–1979 Unit 3 limited to 92.5% of capacity
5–8 1984–1987 Now operated by Bruce Power, but site owned by OPG
Pickering 1–4 1971 Units 2–3 in safe shutdown state
5–8 1983
Darlington 1–4 1990–1993 in operations for OPG

The Bruce Nuclear Generating Station became the largest nuclear generating station in the world in 2011 (and has remained the largest) by net electrical power rating, total reactor count, and number of operational reactors.

The last nuclear plant to be built in Ontario, Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, was planned in the 1970s. Construction started in 1981, but due to a series of political decision to delay construction, construction took an inordinately long time. Costs continued to mount during the delay and the plant was completed in 1993. This delay in the schedule caused the projected costs to increase tremendously, from an initial projected cost of $7.0 billion to $14.5 billion. The delay accounted for seventy percent of the cost increase.[26]

Overcapacity and cost overruns

The 1970s saw increasing controversy relating to Hydro's expansion strategy, and several inquiries were held:

  • in 1974–1975, the Solandt Commission issued reports with respect to transmission lines that were to be constructed between Nanticoke and Pickering,[27] and from Lennox to Oshawa.[28]
  • in 1980, the Porter Commission recommended that Hydro change its focus from capacity expansion to demand management,[29] but the report was ignored.[30]

The 1980s saw large increases in the rates charged, arising from:

  • cost increases in the construction of Darlington (as noted in the previous section),
  • cost overruns for the supply of boilers by Babcock and Wilcox at the existing nuclear stations, the total for which had ballooned to $850 million[31] and
  • the negotiation of take-or-pay contracts with Rio Algom and Denison Mines for the supply of uranium, prior to the collapse of world prices,[32] which were subsequently cancelled in 1991 at a cost of $717 million.[33]

In 1989, Ontario Hydro published a four-volume study, up to the year 2014, entitled Providing the Balance of Power, with different scenarios attempting to solve the need for additional facilities to replace aging electricity generation stations. This was derailed when electricity growth rates declined due to the recession of the early 1990s.


In 1998, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario passed the Energy Competition Act, 1998,[34] which:

Further reading

  • E.B. Biggar (1920). Hydro-Electric Development in Ontario: A History of Water Power Administration under the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario. Toronto:  
  • Reginald Pelham Bolton (1913). An Expensive Experiment: The Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario. New York:  
  • Boothman, Barry E.C. (1994). Night of the Longest Day: The Receivership of Abitibi Power and Paper (PDF). Annual Conference of the Administrative Sciences Association of Canada 15. pp. 22–32.  (Section 14: Business History)
  • A. Brady (1936). "The Ontario Hydro-Electric Power Commission".  
  • Ronald J. Daniels, ed. (1996). Ontario Hydro at the Millennium: Has Monopoly's Moment Passed?.  
  • Keith R. Fleming (1992). Power at Cost: Ontario Hydro and Rural Electrification, 1911–1958.  
  • Neil B. Freeman (1996). The Politics of Power: Ontario Hydro and Its Government, 1906–1995. Toronto:  
  • Aynsley Kellow (1996). "Ontario: The decline and fall of the electric empire". Transforming Power: The Politics of Electricity Planning.  
  • Jean Manore (1999). Cross-currents: Hydroelectricity and the Engineering of Northern Ontario. Waterloo:  
  • Nelles, H.V. (2005). Politics of Development: Forests, Mines, and Hydro-Electric Power in Ontario, 1849–1941 (2nd ed.).  
  • * A. Lennox Stanton (1929). "The Ontario Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario". Journal of the Royal Society of Arts 77 (4013): 1115–1130.  
  • Jamie Swift; Keith Stewart (2004). Hydro: The Decline and Fall of Ontario's Electric Empire.  

See also


  1. ^ The Abitibi Canyon Power Development Act, 1933, S.O. 1933, c. 3 with respect to Abitibi Canyon,[18] and The Abitibi Power and Paper Company, Limited, Act, 1937, S.O. 1937, c. 4 with respect to a dam and transmission line at Sturgeon Falls


  1. ^ Biggar 1920, p. 32.
  2. ^ Biggar 1920, pp. 34–36.
  3. ^ Biggar 1920, p. 37.
  4. ^ Biggar 1920, pp. 42–44.
  5. ^ Hampton 2003, p. 37.
  6. ^ , S.O. 7 Edw. VII, c. 19"Power Commission Act, 1906". Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  7. ^ Biggar 1920, p. 61.
  8. ^ Neil Freeman (1992). "Turn-of-the-Century State Intervention: Creating the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario, 1906". Ontario History 84 (3): 171–194. 
  9. ^ Hampton 2003, p. 44.
  10. ^ Hampton 2003, p. 45–46.
  11. ^ Catherine Slaney (2003). Family Secrets: Crossing the Colour Line. Toronto: Natural Heritage/Natural History.  
  12. ^ Fleming 1992, p. 40.
  13. ^ "ONTARIO ACQUIRES ELECTRIC INTERESTS; Province Takes Over Mackenzie Concerns, Valued at More Than $32,000,000. RAIL AND POWER PLANTS. All Electrical Development Now Passes to Public Ownership Under Hydro Board.".  
  14. ^ Fleming 1992, pp. 55–73.
  15. ^ Fleming 1992, p. 126.
  16. ^ a b Boothman 1994, p. 24.
  17. ^ Nelles 2005, p. 470.
  18. ^ "Abitibi Canyon Generating Station".  
  19. ^ a b Boothman 1994, p. 26.
  20. ^ , S.O. 1939 (2nd Sess.), c. 8"Power Control Act, 1939". 
  21. ^ Fleming 1992, p. 179.
  22. ^ Hydro-Electric Railway Act, 1914, S.O. 4 George V, C. 31
  23. ^ Due, John F. "Sir Adam Beck and the Hydro Radial Proposals". Bulletin (Upper Canada Railway Society) (50). Retrieved August 14, 2013. 
  24. ^ "The Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario: 1969 Annual Report". pp. 44–46. Retrieved August 14, 2013. 
  25. ^ Power Commission Amendment Act, 1973, s.o. 1973, c. 57, which renamed the Power Commission Act as the Power Corporation Act
  26. ^ Canadian Nuclear FAQs
  27. ^ "Solandt Commission Part I: a public inquiry into the transmission of power between Nanticoke and Pickering". March 1974. Retrieved August 18, 2013. 
  28. ^ "Solandt Commission Part II: a public inquiry into the transmission of power between Lennox and Oshawa". April 1975. Retrieved August 18, 2013. 
  29. ^ "Report of the Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning". February 1980.  
  30. ^ Hampton 2003, p. 130.
  31. ^ Hampton 2003, p. 124.
  32. ^ Hampton 2003, pp. 124–126.
  33. ^ Kellow 1996, p. 126.
  34. ^ , SO 1998, c. 15"Energy Competition Act, 1998" (PDF).  
  35. ^ , SO 1998, c. 15, Sch. A"Electricity Act, 1998". Service Ontario. Retrieved August 14, 2013. 
  36. ^ John Spears (December 28, 2011). "Hydro debt retirement charge reporting proposed in Ontario".  

External links

  • Niagara Falls History of Power
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