Ontario is having a hard time deciding which it wants more: clean power, or cheap power?
As required by Ontario regulations, Ontario Power Generation
(OPG) will shut down all four of their remaining coal-fired thermal stations – Atikokan, Lambton, Nanticoke and Thunder Bay – by December 31, 2014.[i],[ii] But the recession cut demand for electricity enough that some stakeholders think OPG should shut down the coal plants faster. Now, municipalities are getting into the act.
Due to the recession, a mild winter, and conservation efforts, Ontario’s demand for electricity last year dipped to its lowest level since 1997. 6.6%, or 9.8 kWh of that, came from coal, down sharply from 36.3 billion kWh in 2003.[iii] OPG continues to operate its coal-fired plants to provide base load power, keeping the more nimble, cleaner and usually more expensive natural gas-fired generation capacity for peak or variable loads.
However, the reduced demand could allow OPG to idle the coal-fired plants, and only operate them as a last resort. The principal cost would be economic (likely by increasing the cost of power and by cutting employment for the workers affected); the principal benefit, cleaner air. OPG may also risk losing carbon credits for the retirement of its coal-fired plants, if they’re closed too soon before we have a before we have a cap and trade system in place. Ontario’s power pricing system is already badly mangled, as we vacillate between insisting on pricing power through the open market, and using it to achieve social goals.
Three Ontario municipalities have now decided that what we really want, now, is cleaner air.
Hamilton City Council passed a motion on May 12, 2010, requesting Ontario’s Government to order OPG to put its coal plants on standby and only operate them as a last resort.[iv] Kitchener and Guelph have recently passed similar resolutions.[v] Such resolutions have no legal force, but who would ever have thought that we’d see municipalities calling for cleaner, more expensive power?
[i]. Ontario Power Generation. Thermal Power, At http://www.opg.com/power/thermal/
[ii]. Environmental Protection Act. Ontario Regulation 496/07: Cessation of Coal Use – Atikokan, Lambtom, Nantcoke and Thunder Bay Generating Stations, At http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/regs/english/elaws_regs_070496_e.htm
[iii]. Ontario Clean Air Alliance. (March 2010). “Finishing the Coal Pahse Out: An historic opportunity for climate leadership”, At http://www.cleanairalliance.org/files/active/0/phaseout%20progress%202010.pdf