Greenhouse gas emissions from Ontario’s electricity system are set to increase more than 400% over the next two decades after the Doug Ford government cancelled a major wind farm and 758 smaller renewable energy projects, according to a forecast published by the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator and reported by the Toronto Star.
“The projections show that the province’s natural gas plants—which only operate about 60% of the time now—will run non-stop by 2033,” the Star writes. “The additional annual emissions this will produce over the next 20 years are equivalent to a large Alberta oilsands project.”
But with all the renewable energy projects gone—and taxpayers paying the price—“the province currently has no other way to compensate for the looming shutdown of a major nuclear reactor in Pickering, responsible for roughly 16% of province-wide power. Only natural gas is available to meet rapidly growing demand for electricity, according to the IESO projections.”
The shift in grid profile and reliance on climate-busting methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, runs counter to Canada’s international commitments to get greenhouse gas emissions under control, said Jack Gibbons, executive director of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. Industry analysts also see it undercutting the province’s competitive advantage in the cleantech industry, the Star adds.
“Ontario’s largest industries, from steelmakers to auto manufacturers, are facing intense buyer pressure to decarbonize their operations,” the paper writes. “Some businesses are setting up shop in places like Quebec, where cheap, low-emission hydroelectricity is abundant.”
Ontario has long relied on nuclear generation to supply “baseload” power and, more recently, to balance solar and wind electricity that will be considered intermittent until a lot more energy storage shows up on the grid. “But Ontario’s three aging nuclear reactors are coming to the end of their service lives,” the Star explains. “Bruce and Darlington are in a decade-long process of refurbishment that should allow them to keep operating for another 40 years. Pickering, on the other hand, is slated to shut permanently in 2025.”
That has the IESO projecting a “yawning gap between supply and demand for electricity in the province. And it’s a baseload gap that cannot be filled with wind and solar,” the Star says. “A lack of planning—we could have built up storage capacity to collect surplus wind and solar and feed it back into the grid when needed—means the province has no choice but to replace non-polluting nuclear with fossil fuel generation.”
“The province has ignored energy planning for the last four years because there was no need. We had an energy surplus,” said former Ontario environment commissioner Gord Miller. “But now we’re in an energy squeeze. When Pickering turns off, we have no plans,” and “the default option is to up the gas.”
The Star has a long read on the history of the problem, the political response to the IESO report, the competitive pressures facing industries in search of clean electricity, and some “belated action on the clean electricity file in Ontario” as the province prepares for an impending electricity shortage.