With modest fanfare, Environment Canada announced the other day that Canada’s greenhouse gases (GHGs) stopped rising between 2004 and 2005. The reason? Environment Canada tries to make it look the mild winter of 2004–2005, which meant that people burned less oil and gas for space heating, played a major role. But a hard look at the numbers shows that the real reason is because previously mothballed nuclear power generating units returned to service in Ontario’s electricity system.
When Environment Canada releases the numbers for 2006, it might even show a reduction in Canada’s GHGs: 2006 was Pickering unit 1’s first full year back on the job. This 515 megawatt unit, generating baseload power, directly displaced an equivalent amount of coal generation. Preliminary data from the Independent Electricity System Operator indicate that Ontario’s electricity GHGs were 30 million tonnes in 2006. That’s 15 million tonnes less than in 2003.
A staffer to Environment Minister John Baird told the Toronto Star that Ontario’s nuclear renaissance actually began under the Mike Harris Conservatives. Of course he didn’t point out that the stunning emission reductions have all occurred during Dalton McGuinty’s premiership.
In view of this you might think that McGuinty—who came to power promising to deal decisively with electricity emissions, and who has taken it on the chin for not closing the coal plants—would blow his own horn over this. After all, Ontario’s 15 million tonne reduction is, by far, the biggest since Canada signed Kyoto. But McGuinty has shown a baffling reluctance to either acknowledge the emission reductions or to attribute them to his own decision to restart Pickering unit 1.
Is this a case of McGuinty being too afraid of the green lobbyists, who are all anti-nuclear? Or do his advisers just not know how to spin it? Either way, he’d better start taking credit for Canada’s biggest emission reduction. He’s being out-spun, right in his own backyard, by the federal Conservatives.
McGuinty and crew are not going to say the word “nucular” until after the election this fall. They figure they can lose the election if it becomes an issue. Once back in power they plan to do a couple of refurbishment jobs early in their term, then go silent again until the next election.
How can this conspiracy of silence be broken? The CANDU interest groups have to put out a lot of effective, hard hitting advertising – loud and proud. So far their efforts have been half-hearted.
I figure that there is also some opposition to the nuclear renaissance from the people whose income is directly reduced because of the successful plant restarts. A reduction of 15 million tons of CO2 is roughly equivalent to a reduction of 4 million tons of coal burning. That takes somewhere around $100-200 million out of somebody’s annual revenue. There are great variations in the losers here, but I expect that some railroads were affected as well as several coal mines either directly or because of overall reduction in commodity market prices.
“Greens” are not the natural opposition to nuclear power – they are just more vocal than the fossil fuel interests are. I think that is because people like the IDEA that they are siding with the environment when they oppose nuclear energy.
They might think differently if they realized that they were simply playing into the hands of corporations with a financial interest in selling and transporting dirty coal from mines into their forests and lungs.
Thanks Rod. Your argument might apply to other jurisdictions but Ontario is a bit of an odd case. The company that owns and operates the province’s coal-fired generators, Ontario Power Generation (OPG), also owns and operates ten of its nuclear generators. OPG’s management quietly opposes the government’s coal phase-out policy (the government is the sole shareholder but supports its nuclear renaissance. Same goes for the two main power-sector unions: they oppose the coal decision but support the nuclear one. Their argument is that Ontario could reduce power emissions by shifting baseload back to nuclear. Our coal plants could return to their early 1990s role, which was inexpensive backup. The only private-sector nuclear operator, Bruce Power, also opposes the coal phase out. The greens oppose both coal and nuclear, and support gas. The main anti-coal lobby group, the OCAA, is funded by the gas distribution companies.