Last week there was a telling exchange between federal environment minister John Baird and the Toronto Star’s Ian Urquhart. On Monday, Urquhart published a column claiming that Baird had said that Ontario’s coal plant closures wouldn’t qualify for emission credits under the trading scheme the federal government is contemplating. Baird responded in a letter to the editor saying that any sector that achieves an 18 percent emission reduction—within two years—would be eligible for credits.
Neither Urquhart’s column nor Baird’s letter mentioned the critical baseline year from which reductions would be calculated. I have heard that the feds like 2006.
There is only one sector in one province that can achieve an 18 percent emission reduction by 2010. And that is the electricity generating sector in Ontario. As I have pointed out, Ontario’s power-sector emissions were 15 million tonnes lower in 2006 than in 2003. This was due entirely to the return of previously mothballed nuclear reactors at the Pickering and Bruce generating stations.
If I’m right about 2006 being the baseline year, then Ontario would have until 2010 to chop power emissions to 24.6 million tonnes (which is 18 percent less than the 2006 total of 30 million tonnes). Those who pay attention to these things will know that 24.6 million tonnes is just a bit below the original Kyoto target for this sector. So much for all the talk about the Conservatives abandoning Kyoto targets.
Is it possible to reduce power sector emissions by 18 percent?
It is possible but not certain. After the dramatic reductions of 2003–2006, Ontario’s power sector emissions shot back up in 2007 because longer-than-expected nuclear outages forced the province to shift back to coal. For Ontario to meet Baird’s 18 percent reduction target by 2010, the nuclear power plants—run by OPG and Bruce Power—have to keep their downtime well below the 2007 mark. It is already looking like that may be possible, at least in the case of Bruce Power: unit 4 came back online last week.
Determining Ontario’s eligibility for emission credits is a negotiation with multi-billion dollar implications. When Ontario decides to renew part of the provincial nuclear generator fleet, the feds want the new reactors to be Canadian-made. The McGuinty government, the ultimate decider, is more likely to agree to this if the feds sweeten the pot. Hence the wrangle over emission credits.