‘It’s shameful’: Critics slam Doug Ford’s plan to replace nuclear power with natural gas
The nuclear power plant in Pickering, Ont., is shown in an undated photo. The plant it set to close in 2025.
From the Toronto Star, August 23, 2022
Ontario’s plan to replace electricity generation when an aging nuclear plant closes in 2025 has critics saying the province didn’t get the memo on the growing dangers of climate change.
Of six new contracts announced by the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) on Tuesday, four are for power to be generated by burning natural gas, while the other two — for wind and energy storage — account for less than 10 per cent of the 764 megawatts under contract.
Energy Minister Todd Smith defended the procurement, made in the wake of last year’s IESO warning that phasing out gas-fired power plants before 2030 would result in rotating blackouts and higher electricity bills because alternate supply and transmission lines could not be built in time.
“It’s been a competitive procurement that’s resulted in us recontracting existing generators at a 30 per cent savings to the ratepayers,” Smith told reporters after the legislature’s daily question period.
“We have to make sure that our system is reliable. We can’t experience brownouts that will discourage any investment in our province, which is why we need to ensure that any energy that we’re procuring is going to be there when we need it.”
Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the government is missing the point, with the IESO decision a result of Premier Doug Ford’s 2018 move to scrap 758 renewable energy projects at a cost of $230 million in compensation.
“It’s now or never to address the climate crisis, and the government has failed to meet the moment … The International Energy Agency has said if we have any chance of meeting our climate obligations, we cannot increase fossil fuel use,” Schreiner added.
“There is still time to ramp up renewables and storage.”
The new contracts come on the grid in 2024 and 2026 to fill the gap left when the Pickering nuclear plant goes offline. It will then be put in a “safe storage” state by removing uranium fuel and water, and decommissioned starting in 2028.
Keith Brooks of the lobby group Environmental Defence agreed Ontario would be “in a much better position” if not for the 2018 green energy project cancellations.
He also warned an upcoming long-term IESO procurement plan for the next two decades could go heavy on natural gas as well, potentially putting the province offside with a planned federal standard of “decarbonized” or net-zero emissions on electricity production by 2035.
“It’s shameful,” Brooks said. “All the work we’ve done in this province to get off coal to drive down emissions in the electricity sector is being undone by a new commitment to gas.”
Jack Gibbons of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance said the province is “absolutely going in the wrong direction.”
Smith said he has asked the IESO to speed up a report on a possible moratorium on building new natural gas-fired power plants as the province works toward an electricity grid with net-zero emissions.
Poor planning by Ford’s Progressive Conservatives has “really put us in a tough spot,” interim New Democrat Leader Peter Tabuns said in reference to the 2018 decision to cancel the renewable energy projects in development and not contracting for more power from neighbouring Quebec.
“If they had done the planning a few years ago, there wouldn’t be any question that we could just simply say no (to natural gas). They cut conservation programs, they cancelled green energy programs,” he added.
“You saw the news out of Texas, the flooding that’s going on. You saw the storm that went through in May, the snapping off of hundreds of hydro poles in Ottawa. We’ve got a crisis and this government is not taking it seriously.”
The 758 green energy contracts signed by the previous Liberal government were cancelled by the Progressive Conservatives four years ago amid voter outrage over high electricity prices. They were a major election issue in 2018 after doubling in the previous 10 years as the Liberals encouraged green energy production by paying more than traditional market rates for it.
With the Pickering nuclear plant starting to go offline in 2024 and closing in 2025, and other nuclear plants being refurbished this decade, the province needs replacement power at a time when demand for electricity is expected to increase because of rising electric vehicle sales, new electrified public transit lines and new industries like an electric vehicle battery plant being built in Windsor to serve Chrysler parent Stellantis.
The Pickering plant opened in 1971 and produces about 14 per cent of Ontario’s electricity.
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