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An inside look at Ontario's long-term energy plan

Published Nov. 24, 2010 by Graham Haines

Graham Haines

Yesterday I attended a government briefing on the release of Ontario's long-term energy plan. I walked away pleased that the government was staying the course on developing a green and reliable electricity system that Ontarians can be proud of. This government has been criticized for recent increases to electricity bills, and it would have been easy to back down from their plans and instead move forward with a cheaper, dirtier plan — but they did not, and for this they should be commended.

The positives were obvious at first glance: Coal power will still be phased out by 2014 — providing an example for all North American jurisdictions to follow; Ontario will continue to aggressively pursue conservation, where we are already among the leaders in North America (the government is even encouraging exceeding and accelerating its conservation targets); finally, the target for wind, solar and bio-energy has been raised to about 13 per cent of generation by 2018, up from the previous target of 10 per cent by 2030. Currently, these sources contribute just three per cent of Ontario's electricity supply.

Despite these positive elements, as I dug into the details of the plan I also came across some reasons for concern. As it stands, the plan commits Ontario to keeping nuclear near 50 per cent of the province's total generating capacity, primarily through refurbishing existing power plants. Given the cost and time overruns of both the Bruce Power plant and Point Lepreau, this seems like a risky strategy.

A wind turbine stands on the shore near the nuclear power plant in Pickering, Ont. This commitment to nuclear power may also limit the development of renewable energy in the medium-term. In part thanks to Ontario's continued commitment to energy efficiency, electricity demand is likely stay almost constant in the province over the next 10 years and only begin to grow slowly after that. This fact means there is only so much room on the grid for any source of power generation, whether it's hydro, wind, nuclear or gas. This is illustrated in the plan itself by the fact the targets for wind, solar and bio-energy are the same in 2018 as they are in 2030 (10,700 MW).

This suggests Ontario's target could inadvertently result in a cap on renewables. The 10,700 MW target is already exceeded by projects currently in the pipeline, more than 6,000 MW of which are already in operation or under contract. What's frustrating about this target is that we have only begun to scratch the surface of renewable energy's potential and its ability to provide jobs for Ontarians — while this "made-in-Ontario" energy plan continues to take some positive steps forward, we could actually be doing a lot more.

There are many leaders for Ontario to follow on its path to more green energy: for 2020 Denmark has a 30 per cent renewable energy target, Nothern Ireland has a 40 per cent target and Scotland has an 80 per cent target. These countries are not the exception to the rule in the EU — the EU itself has set a collective 20 per cent renewable energy target for 2020.

This government has made bold strides to position itself as a leader in green energy, but staying in the lead means Ontario should rethink its reliance on nuclear power. New nuclear generation and future refurbishment should only go ahead when it's the most cost-effective solution to meeting our energy needs Green power provides a lower-cost alternative, and that should be taken into account when the province examines its options.

This approach will create more green jobs for Ontarians and can soften the increase to our electricity bills, both of which are good things in my books.

Download: Ontario's Long-Term Energy Plan

Find more content by topic: Energy Efficiency, Green Economics, Electricity Generation, Nuclear Power, Ontario, Provincial Action, Wind Power.

David Lewis — Dec 03, 2010 - 07:22 AM MT

If you look at the budget numbers and the total power projected to be delivered to the grid what you see is solar is going to cost $9 billion to produce 1.5% of the 2030 requirement, or 2.4 TWhr. In contrast, refurbishing the existing nuclear fleet and adding two new units will cost $33 billion and it will produce 42% of the requirement or 73 TWhr. In other words, if they spent all that nuclear budget on solar, they could only get 1/6th as much power out of it.

Why all the opposition to nuclear? It is the wastes of fossil fuels that threaten the existence of civilization. Why do the environment groups back gas? New research is suggesting that gas has as great a climate impact as coal.

http://theenergycollective.com/david-lewis/47794/gas-bridge-nowhere

Its Alice in Wonderland.

Torben Ruddock, E.I.T. — Jan 13, 2011 - 02:20 PM MT

David,
I agree that there is a lot of opposition to nuclear, perhaps too much and perhaps partially unfounded. I also agree that natural gas can have a negative impact as well. I think the reason environmental groups back gas is because currently the technology to produce it and use it are more efficient then coal systems in Canada. That being said, when I was a 2nd year engineering student our professor on air quality showed us how cities and towns in Germany were able to rely practically solely on coal with minimal impacts. Clearly the technology existed over there, and that was in 2005.

So you say don't jump on the solar train just yet because according to the budget it costs $3.75 Billion / TWhr whereas new nuclear and refurbishing will cost $0.45 Billion / TWhr. If you looked at the numbers straight up, the economist may initially squash solar all-together. However thinking outside of the box, spending money on new technology of any kind is always more expensive. But the sooner we push the new tech and begin wide spread use there is a trickle down effect that is worth far more socio-economically in the long run than short term budget savings. Spending money on solar now will reduce the cost in the future, and that is vital for both job stimulation and energy self-dependency.

Although I think that 1.5% isn't a huge amount of the 2030 requirement, it is a great start and I applaud the government for keeping the ball rolling on green energy. Green Tech is the future.

Lori — Nov 25, 2010 - 10:27 AM MT

With all the scientific data that shows that Nuclear development at all staqes, right from mining to the storage of the nuclear waste will have a far more devastating impact on the environment and ongoing impact on the health of wildlife, and humans. What is it going to take to get government to finally start to protect the health of the people that it is their duty to protect?

The profit driven oil and gas industry has left a negative impact, not just the amount of toxins and carbons released into the air in the process of producing electricity, but also by the numerous oil spills that have occurred in the oceans. This has been done by industry that have been allowed to be deemed the experts in their fields and the Environmental Impact studies that they have presented show on paper and computer that there is relatively no risk and that they can mitigate the damages. Time and time again it is proven that they can not. As with the most recent B.P. oil spill.

Now with globabl warming and climate change the attitude has been adopted that nulear will help reduce carbon emmissions - that it is best to replace one deadly environmental disaster, with a fuel source that is far more dangerous because it does not produce carbon emmissions. The very process of mining produces toxic heavy metals, dangerous gases such as radon, and the end result is waste material that will remain radioactive and will have to be stored, cooled and monitored for thousands of years does not make any sense at all. And where is the scientific data and investigation to determine whether and how much the hot nuclear waste is contributing to global warming?

Once again, government and industry hang on to the belief that this can be a profitable industry, and science will find a way to counteract and control all the negative impacts on humanity.

I agree that it is time to invest in solar and wind power despite that right now it is not profitable, for the benefits from these sources of power are far more
beneficial to humanity than the unkowns and uncertainties of the environmental impact of the nuclear industry.

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