MAC: Mines and Communities

Ontario Walks Tightrope On Plan To End Coal Use

Published by MAC on 2007-08-10
Source: PlanetArk/Reuters

Ontario Walks Tightrope on Plan to End Coal Use

PlanetArk CANADA

10th August 2007

TORONTO - The province of Ontario, Canada's biggest energy user, aims to close its last coal-fired power plant in 2014 and become the only jurisdiction in North America to completely phase out coal, a strategy that some critics deride as reckless and others say is overly timid.

The coal plan is the major plank in the climate change policy of Ontario's Liberal government, which is well aware of the recent growth in voter concern about global warming.

But greenhouse gas-emitting coal now supplies about a fifth of the province's electricity demand and some critics fear that Ontario will be unable to find enough replacement power by the time the 2014 deadline rolls around.

Heading into an October election, the opposition Progressive Conservative Party warns the plan risks more mass blackouts during peak summer periods such as the one that paralyzed Ontario and several US states in 2003.

Ontario is unique in Canada in that summer represents peak demand, when it imports electricity from neighboring provinces and US states. It approached its record of 27,005 megawatts of demand last week as temperatures rose above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) for several days.

"We have a need in Ontario to have the facilities to generate power for both industry and residences, and the simple math says that we have to have more generating capacity," John Tory, the leader of the right-of-center Progressive Conservatives, told Reuters.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, have criticized the 2014 deadline for coal as too distant to have a meaningful impact on Ontario's rising greenhouse gas emissions. They are irked that the government backed off its original pledge to shut Ontario's four remaining coal plants by this year.

A coalition of environmental groups put forward an alternative, 20-year plan last week that they say would shut the coal plants in the next couple of years and replace nuclear power with renewable sources.

"What we found is that the greener models can cut greenhouse gas emissions in half compared to the current plan, and it can save money in the end," said Cherise Burda, spokeswoman for the Pembina Institute, one of the groups behind the 20-year plan.

She said it would cost more in new capital projects over the short term than the government's strategy, but would lead to savings of 11 percent for electricity consumers by 2027.

The Liberal government, elected in 2003, wants to refurbish existing nuclear plants, which now represent about 37 percent of installed power, and possibly build new ones. It also plans to push conservation, reinvest in renewable supply sources such as wind power, and boost by 15 percent its reliance on natural gas to supplement what's lost from coal.

"We want a balanced plan -- one that is cleaner and greener but also one that ... ensures we have the supply and generation on line, and that's why we're maximizing conservation as much as possible," said George Metter, spokesman for the government's energy department.

A poll of Ontario voters conducted last month found concerns about pollution and global warming trumped all other issues, including health care.

But a report earlier this year said that carbon dioxide emissions from Ontario's coal stations increased by more than 90 percent from 1995 to 2005. The increased coal output came as the province ramped-up power exports.

The Nanticoke Generating Station on Lake Erie, for example, is Canada's largest emitter of carbon dioxide, producing about 17 million tons of greenhouse gases each year. Carbon dioxide is the major greenhouse gas that causes climate change.

Benjamin Tal, a senior economist at CIBC World Markets, wrote in a recent study the government's plan for re-balancing Ontario's power supply over the next eight years will be "tight" but possible.

But he warned in an interview that the coal shutdown is slated to happen around the same time that four reactors at the Pickering nuclear station, supplying 2,000 megawatts, are to be shut down for refurbishment, and that any transmission glitch could jeopardize supply.

Story by Jonathan Spicer


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