EDITORIAL: Ontario Government asks people to hold their breath for 25 years

The world is going electric in order to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses that cause climate change. This means that we need to produce our electricity in clean and green ways.

In draft regulations published on 10 August, the federal government presented a $40-billion plan to bring electricity generation and distribution to “net zero” (i.e., not purely non-emitting, but all emissions compensated for) by 2035. Accomplishing this will set Canada on track to be net-zero across the board by 2050.

These proposed regulations are aimed at creating quick action.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s recent power plan, “Powering Ontario’s Growth,” is all about “looking ahead on the path to 2050,” according to Energy Minister Todd Smith. The provincial government is making “generational decisions, like starting pre-development work for a new nuclear station at Bruce.” These won’t pay out until sometime in the 2030s-50s.

In the meantime, while “pre-development” takes place, the gaps between electricity supply and demand will be bridged by fossil fuel generation.

The Ford government is signing expensive and polluting contracts filling loopholes in the Federal draft regulations. They allow for the continued use of existing fossil fuel generated electricity. “Existing” means built or contracted before the regulations are finalized.

Ontario, having neglected its fleet of nuclear generators and actively thwarted solar and wind generation, is racing to create “existing” fossil fuel infrastructure.

Four of Ontario’s aging nuclear generators will be offline for refurbishment this year, removing 9 per cent of Ontario’s generating capacity. Three or four will be offline each year until 2026, after which it will be two or one until 2033. This capacity must be found elsewhere.

How will this affect us locally? Directly across the Adolphus Reach from the County’s eastern tip is the Lennox Generating Station, Canada’s biggest natural gas power plant. It is not powered solely by relatively clean natural gas, however. It also uses residual fuel oil, which produces sulphuric acid, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

This plant was intended for backup during peak demand (e.g., on the hottest days of the summer). Planned in 1976, its technology is old, and it cannot keep up with environmental standards.

It gets worse. In March of this year Lennox was approved for exemptions from emissions standards for the next ten years. The very years in which we are striving for net-zero emissions. Some of the exemptions are remarkably high.

This plant has operated at 0.5 per cent of its capacity in the last decade. Now, with expected rises in demand and loss of nuclear supply, it is expected to operate at 2 per cent of its capacity. This is a fourfold increase. The increases in emissions that it has been granted are twenty times the allowed amount of sulphur dioxide (which is an indirect greenhouse gas that also causes respiratory problems). The nitrogen oxides this plant has been allowed are double the standard. Nitrogen oxide is a greenhouse gas whose impact on the environment is 265 times that of carbon dioxide.

These emissions occur when the plant is using residual fuel oil, which is “less than 46 percent of the time,” according to the Ontario government. So, on average, we can construe this arrangement to be doubling emissions that are already well over the standard at a time when we are striving for zero emissions.

The “Powering Ontario’s Growth” plan uses the terms “clean and green” a lot. And almost exclusively for nuclear power. It may not emit greenhouse gases, but is certainly not without pollution. The plan is baldly political when it comes to wind and solar. It reads: “Currently hydroelectric and nuclear provide the lowest-cost power to Ontario’s grid, with contracted solar and wind costs being higher, reflecting the over-market priced contracts signed between 2004 and 2016.”

The plan continues: “Ontario’s recently procured clean storage resources will help these renewable energy resources provide capacity, by addressing their intermittency due to weather-dependency, while also helping Ontario to better integrate future renewables assets to support the province’s growing electricity needs.”

“Clean storage resources” refers to batteries. “Procured” means that they have not yet been built. When they come online by 2026, they will supply 1217 megawatts of power. Nuclear refurbishments in the same year will remove 3400 megawatts of power from the grid. The balance will be made up by fossil fuels. As a result, according to a recent IESO study, “electricity system emissions [in Ontario] are forecast to increase this decade from a recent average of 4.4 megatonnes (Mt) to between 10.9 and 12.2 Mt in 2030.”

“Powering Ontario’s Growth” outlines a political policy. It is nowhere close to being a responsible (i.e., net-zero) energy plan.

—Chris Fanning