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.
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