The Doug Ford government is turning Ontario into an “innovation wasteland” and setting the province up to increase its dependence on greenhouse gas-intensive natural gas with its latest plan to eliminate renewable energy requirements in provincial legislation—and making its move while communities are preoccupied with a brutal third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, renewable advocates say.
With renewable energy costs falling, energy storage maturing, and utilities learning more about how to manage distributed energy resources, “Ontario is slamming the door to what is widely seen as the technological and economic leading edge,” said York University environmental studies professor Mark Winfield.
“It’s almost like dealing with a government that has an allergy to renewable energy, but it’s more than that,” Winfield told The Energy Mix. “This is a program of extermination, for lack of a better way of describing it. They’re going through the last vestiges of the [former] Green Energy Act that facilitate renewables in the province and systematically eliminating them. Other than in ideological terms, it doesn’t make any sense.”
“Doug Ford’s government continues to demonstrate evidence-free decision-making,” agreed Greenpeace Canada Senior Energy Strategist Keith Stewart. “Renewable energy was always the cleanest form of power, but in the last few years it has become the cheapest form of new generation. We should be welcoming it into the mix, not strangling it with red tape.”
“The Doug Ford government is going in the wrong direction,” added Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA) Chair Jack Gibbons. “Despite the fact that solar and wind are now our lowest-cost sources of new electricity supply, Doug Ford wants to increase the climate-damaging pollution from Ontario’s gas-fired power plants by 500% or more. If this occurs, we will lose approximately 40% of the pollution reduction benefits we gained by phasing out our dirty coal plants.”
Winfield added that the sudden deregulatory push is “essentially performative”, at least in the short term.
“You have to ask what is going on here,” he said. “The province is in the midst of the worst health crisis in its history, and the cabinet has time to deal with some relatively, ultimately, marginal provisions on renewables development which isn’t happening anyway. It just looks like a political vendetta and not much else. I can’t offer much more of a rationale than that.”
The groups were reacting to an April 15 notice on the Environmental Registry of Ontario, describing a regulation that would repeal sections of three provincial acts that promote and prioritize renewable energy development in the province. “Ontario has built a clean energy supply,” the notice claims. “Prioritizing renewable generation is no longer appropriate. Going forward, Ontario will ensure value for ratepayers by allowing all resources to compete to meet system needs.”
William Coutts, the energy ministry contact identified in the notice, did not return multiple calls asking for details on the government’s thinking. The notice is open for public comment until May 25.
Winfield said renewable energy development has been a “dead end” in Ontario since 2018, when the government of then-premier Kathleen Wynne closed the door on new projects. Ford cancelled any remaining contracts, at an apparent cost of C$231 million, after he took office later that year.
All of which runs counter to the rapid drive toward emission-free grids—around the world, and most recently in the United States.
“The energy conversation globally is moving in this direction, and they’re saying they don’t want anything to do with it,” Winfield said. “Even Jason Kenney in Alberta is still engaged around renewables development, but Ontario seems to want to declare we’re an innovation wasteland. There are multiple, parallel revolutions happening in the energy sector, but we don’t want anything to do with that,” not even as a way to contain costs when the Darlington and Bruce nuclear stations go offline for refurbishment over the next decade.
Those repairs mean that “the province is moving from an electricity surplus to potentially requiring new energy supplies,” and appears intent on filling the gap with emissions-intensive gas.
“Instead of developing or further optimizing renewables, doing more on energy efficiency, having a more serious conversation with Quebec, the plan is just to run the gas plants flat-out, which among other things will erode a significant part of the gains we achieved in greenhouse gas emissions and particulate air pollutants from getting off coal,” Winfield said.
The day before the provincial notice appeared, the Ontario Energy Association published an analysis of what it would take to phase out all the province’s natural gas generation by 2030. OCAA is currently running a campaign in which 21 municipalities, including Toronto, have asked the province to address its “embarrassing gas problem” as soon as possible—though not necessarily by 2030.
“The report underscores the need to maintain Ontario’s natural gas-fired generation fleet to ensure Ontario homes and businesses have a reliable electricity supply both today, and as Ontario refurbishes its nuclear fleet over the coming years,” the association said in a release.