From the archives: Ontario’s future economy dependent on precarious natural gas

The now defunct 2007 Integrated Power System Plan set a 14,000 MW limit on nuclear which is the capacity of all the nuclear units in Ontario, including the two closed units at Pickering and the two being refurbished at Bruce, and this was expected to meet around 50 percent of Ontario’s future electricity needs. The recently announced Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP) has dropped this to 12,000 MW which the government now thinks is enough to meet the same 50 percent. This means 10 existing nuclear units will be refurbished and a new 2.000 MW station will be built at Darlington. The rationale for the 50 percent limit on nuclear generation is explained in the LTEP as follows.

Ontario will continue to rely on nuclear power—at its current level of contribution to the supply. Nuclear generation is ideally suited for providing baseload generation because of its unique economic and operating characteristics. Nuclear plant operational design and economics depend on the plants being able to operate steadily throughout the year. A generation mix of 50 per cent nuclear combined with baseload hydroelectric generation is sufficient to meet most of Ontario’s baseload requirements.

If nuclear capacity beyond this were added, the hours in the year in which nuclear capability exceeded Ontario demand could substantially increase. Under such surplus conditions, some nuclear units might need to be shut down or operate differently than intended. This could lead to significant system and operating challenges and so therefore, generating too much nuclear is undesirable.
Ontario’s Long Term Energy Plan

Flexibility concerns with nuclear and the need for sufficient and suitable demand response loads on the grid have been mentioned in my previous articles. With nuclear supplying 50 percent and assuming adequate water is available hydro will be expected to supply around 25 percent of Ontario’s needs so in the absence of coal-fired generation after 2014 enough natural gas-fired generation will have to be available to provide the 25 percent balance. The government expects wind and solar to help out but no matter how many megawatt-hours of energy wind and solar provide over the year the megawatts cannot be guaranteed to be there when they are needed.

This means that Ontario’s economy will be dependent on a supply of non-renewable natural gas at a reasonable price, which may be too much to expect given the price volatility of the past. The precarious future of natural gas has been described in my previous articles.

Serious thought has to be given to an immediate fix by keeping the current mix of coal-fired and gas-fired generation and not close any more coal plants and not build anymore gas plants. Money being spent on wind projects must be used to install flue gas clean up on the coal units and improve the reliability of the present centralized grid with modern equipment, reinforcement, redundancy and more remote monitoring of equipment.

This article originally appeared in Ontario Wind Resistance in November 2010

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