Ontario’s climate change breakthrough: major bragging opportunity for Dalton McGuinty at Vancouver premier-fest

Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty must be frustrated. He’s at the current Council of the Federation meeting in Vancouver, the focus of which is climate change, and he feels he can’t boast about Ontario’s remarkable progress in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. McGuinty could legitimately claim that Ontario is the North American leader in power sector emission reductions.

As I have mentioned, GHGs in Ontario’s power sector were 15 million tonnes less in 2006 than in 2003. That’s the biggest emissions reduction in any sector anywhere in North America since the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997.

Ontario’s massive GHG reduction was achieved in part because a of decision that McGuinty took in 2004, to return a previously laid-up nuclear power reactor to service. This, along with McGuinty’s support also for the return of other laid-up units, at the Bruce nuclear station, displaced equivalent amounts of coal generation. Ontario’s power-sector emissions plummeted.

So why isn’t the Ontario premier talking this up? Perhaps because the day-to-day performance of Ontario’s nuclear generators seems so up and down. Usually the province’s reactors crank out over 11,000 megawatts of power, which sometimes meets up to 60 percent of Ontario’s demand.

But sometimes, such as today, reactors come off-line for maintenance. (As I write this, in the early morning of January 28, Ontario’s nukes are providing 9,600 MW, only 44 percent.) When that happens, the coal plants—the other non-hydro workhorses in the provincial generator fleet—leap into service. Right now, coal is providing a fifth of the province’s power. And emissions are going up.

McGuinty should quit worrying about this. Day-to-day only seems up and down. Nuclear is still Ontario’s main workhorse, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. The premier should focus instead on the strong likelihood that, by the end of 2009, the Bruce 1 unit will have re-entered service and Ontario’s operating nuclear capacity will be close to 12,000 MW. By the end of 2010, this will have brought the province’s electricity sector to below the original Kyoto target of 25 million tonnes.

This will be a nice achievement to brag about as the Ontario Liberals gear up for the 2011 provincial election. But McGuinty should start bragging now. The example of Ontario’s 15 million tonne achievement might inspire Alberta, whose power sector is almost all coal-fired.

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