Ontario’s energy planning in chaos

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The Ontario government is grappling with a contradictory and adversarial electricity policy, promoting the province as a clean energy location for businesses while failing to safeguard its low-carbon future.

Compared to many other jurisdictions, Ontario has a climate-friendly electricity system. It generates more than 90% of its electricity from emission-free sources, thanks to nuclear facilities in Pickering, Darlington and Bruce, hydroelectric plants, including Niagara Falls, and a small and growing wind and solar sector. The rest comes mainly from CO2-emitting gas-fired power plants.

But the province is facing an energy shortage as the climate crisis prompts drivers, homeowners, farmers and industries to switch from fossil fuels to electricity to power their cars, homes, farms and businesses. It is estimated that Ontario and other provinces will need to double their electricity production by 2050.

Hamilton is at the heart of this transformation as steel giant ArcelorMittal Dofasco is replacing its blast furnace facilities with low-emission natural gas and electric arc technology.

This demand crisis will be compounded by a short-term electricity shortage in 2025 when the 50-year-old Pickering nuclear plant is retired, removing 3,100 megawatts from the province’s 40,000 megawatt system.

In response, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) – Ontario’s system operator – announced in August that it would allow some existing gas-fired power plants to increase output, a move that many critics opposed. , saying it would increase climate emissions.

But Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith responded that he didn’t think new gas plants would be needed in the long term. Additionally, the IESO has approved 55 energy companies – including some of the world’s largest renewable energy companies – to submit bids for 3,500 megawatts of new long-term generation.

Two months after this promising start, there was a flurry of contradictory announcements.

In the face of new forecasts for industrial and electric vehicles, the government has announced that it will ask federal regulators to keep the Pickering plant open for another year, or even decades more, risking a significant increase in system costs. electric.

Smith also approved 1,500 megawatts of new long-term gas generation capacity, sharply increasing CO2 emissions.

It also approved 2,500 megawatts of zero-emissions battery storage. But then, in a contradictory announcement, he decided not to renew a seven-year zero-emission hydroelectric power purchase agreement with Quebec.

Compounding the clean energy shortage, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) signed a 10-year deal to sell nuclear and hydroelectric power to Microsoft Corp., locking in some of the province’s zero-emissions power to reduce software giant’s carbon emissions.

These decisions are a parade of contradictory objectives. Doug Ford’s government touts Ontario as a leader in clean energy, but has had an aversion to renewable energy since canceling more than 700 renewable energy projects in 2018. It also proposes a potentially costly extension of Pickering Nuclear, but rejected the renewal of an existing zero. -Agreement on electricity emissions with Quebec.

All of this comes at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is driving up natural gas prices and wildfires and storms are putting increasing pressure on governments to tackle the climate crisis. Recognizing this, the federal government has proposed regulations requiring provinces to convert their electricity systems to zero emissions, starting in 2035.

So what should the Ontario government do?

The first starting point would be a clear and unequivocal endorsement of the federal framework, committing to ending CO2 emissions from the Ontario grid in 12 years. This would help build political consensus on the future of the electricity system. It would also reassure companies that make large investments based on clean energy.

The policy would clarify power system options. Gas could be used in the short term, but not after 2035. Electricity planners could put aside political distractions and focus on alternatives, such as renewables, adopting the best options based on the costs to term, reliability, safety and climatic considerations.

Eugene Ellmen writes on sustainable business and finance. He lives in Hamilton.

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