Ontario has some of the world’s cleanest electricity.
When the wind is blowing strong enough, the entire province can be powered without producing any carbon emissions — the product of an unprecedented push to end our dependence on coal.
But that’s about to change.
Over the next two decades, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from Ontario’s energy grid are set to skyrocket more than 400 per cent as the province cranks up the dial on its underused fleet of natural gas plants.
That rapid rise in emissions is revealed in the official forecast put out by the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), a crown corporation that manages Ontario’s energy grid.
Since all renewable energy projects were cancelled when Premier Doug Ford was elected, the province currently has no other way to compensate for the looming shutdown of a major nuclear reactor in Pickering, responsible for roughly 16 per cent of province-wide power. Only natural gas is available to meet rapidly growing demand for electricity, according to the IESO projections.
The projections show that the province’s natural gas plants — which only operate about 60 per cent of the time now — will run non-stop by 2033. The additional annual emissions this will produce over the next 20 years are equivalent to a large Alberta oilsands project.
“We’re going totally in the wrong direction,” said Jack Gibbons, chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance and a former Toronto Hydro commissioner.
Burning more methane — the primary component of natural gas — flies in the face of Canada’s international GHG reduction commitments, he added.
Industry analysts, meanwhile, point out that Ontario’s competitive advantage in the clean-tech sector is at risk.
Ontario’s largest industries, from steelmakers to auto manufacturers, are facing intense buyer pressure to decarbonize their operations. Some businesses are setting up shop in places like Quebec, where cheap, low-emission hydroelectricity is abundant.
While Ontario’s energy grid currently produces less than three per cent of the province’s total GHG emissions, experts are quick to note that a 100 per cent clean grid is a prerequisite for decarbonizing the rest of the economy, which will need massive amounts of green electricity in the future.
“You can’t get to zero unless electricity is at zero,” said John Stephenson, a retired engineer who oversaw the development of new generation projects at both Toronto Hydro and Ontario Hydro. “Any carbon in the electricity grid is a big drag on trying to reduce emissions elsewhere.”
Read the full article at The Star.