Darlington decision depends on urban public opinion: and what IS urban public opinion?

Every time I ride the Toronto subway I am impressed, especially when I’m on the Yonge line downtown going north. That is a steady uphill climb to north of Eglinton, and it’s a good workout if you walk or cycle. I try to keep that in mind when I think of the amount of energy it takes to move a long train packed with people at 20 or 30 kilometers an hour up that endless hill. I always marvel at the thought that it is electricity that moves the train, and that by far most of that electricity comes from three tiny locations in Ontario: the Pickering, Darlington, and Bruce nuclear stations. The electricity generated at those three tiny patches of land is what has been making Toronto run, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for the last 40 years.

A new Toronto subway train

Last time I rode the Yonge train northbound was August 25, and that was a hot day. Waiting for the train underground at the King  station was murder: it was even hotter than at street level. It was a huge relief to get onto the nice air conditioned train and ride up to Bloor, then west to Spadina. I was very appreciative of the fact that almost half of the electricity that moved me and thousands of fellow passengers was extremely clean:

Ontario electricity generation, and associated CO2 emissions, August 25 2012 at one-thirty p.m. (source: Independent Electricity System Operator www.ieso.ca)
Fuel Output (MWh) Percent of total CO2, metric tons
Nuclear 10,175 49.74 0
Gas 5,087 24.87 2,758
Hydro 4,118 20.13 0
Coal 694 3.39 660
Other 260 1.27 130
Wind 122 0.60 0
Total 20,456 3,548

At that time, the average emission intensity of Ontario electricity was about 173 grams per kilowatt-hour. (Emission intensity is emissions—in this case, metric tons of CO2 emitted—divided by the total generation. So emission intensity of Ontario grid electricity at the hour I was riding the Red Rocket was 3,548 tons divided by 20,456 megawatts. The result: 173.4 grams per kilowatt-hour.)

The trip cost me $3.00. If Ontario switches electricity generating fuels from nuclear to natural gas, then the price of the subway will go up: electricity is a big part of the cost of running the subway, and gas generators in Ontario fetch huge rates for their electricity. Moreover, most wind costs double the price for nuclear. Luckily, there was not much wind feeding the grid at the time of my trip—a paltry 122 megawatts, or about 13 percent of the wind fleet’s rated capacity.

I would venture to guess that the vast majority of TTC riders do not know that nuclear plants provide the bulk of the electricity that carries them at speed and comfort around Toronto. They probably know intuitively that the claims of the self-appointed “environment” lobby that wind can power the future are laughable.

But do they know that that is precisely what the “environment” lobby wants? Do they know that if the phony greens get their way, TTC fares will rocket into the stratosphere, making the subway unaffordable?

A rise in TTC fares would worsen air quality in the Toronto are, because it would lead to greater use of personal vehicles. Vehicles are by far the biggest source category of air pollution in Toronto. To prevent a calamitous rise in TTC fares, we need more nuclear on our grid. And that means we need to begin the Darlington B project as soon as possible.

Motor vehicles burning fossil fuels are the biggest source contributors to smog in Toronto

The provincial by elections yesterday illustrate a persistent trend in Ontario electoral politics. Urban districts like Kitchener-Waterloo appear to prefer the Liberals or the NDP; yesterday, K-W voters elected an NDP candidate for the first time. The Progressive Conservatives are still having trouble making inroads to urban Ontario. I mentioned back in June that the two urban parties believe wind energy plays a certain role in urban voters’ electoral decisions. It appears to have played no role at all yesterday in the Vaughn and K-W by elections.

But urban voters are still concerned about the environment. What would be their view of nuclear energy, especially if they were made aware of the atom’s central importance to their daily lives?

3 comments for “Darlington decision depends on urban public opinion: and what IS urban public opinion?

  1. James Greenidge
    September 7, 2012 at 19:59

    Re: “What would be their view of nuclear energy, especially if they were made aware of the atom’s central importance to their daily lives?

    Excellent question and I’m wondering just how much nuclear PSA education and exposure the people in Ontario receiving about the virtues of their plants? At least in the U.S. we’ve paid dearly by the lack of public trust and acceptence in nuclear power due a almost criminal lack of nuclear education through the decades (though I rather suspect, in a maybe off-the-wall way, this was intentional in Japan).

    James Greenidge
    Queens, NY

  2. praos
    September 9, 2012 at 10:33

    Windmills go hand in hand with horse-drawn carts, coal-fired plants with a gasoline car, and nuclear with e-trains and e-cars. These are the complementary technologies, it’s as simple as that.

  3. September 11, 2012 at 07:47

    I agree totally Steve. All electric vehicles need an energy source that does not produce more Carbon Dioxide. Nuclear energy is strong and steady, reliable and efficient. Cars like the Chevy Volt and the Tesla will be coming down in price. Tesla has a Model S in Canada now for $57,400. Nuclear will show the way for electric cars and other electric vehicles. We’ll be able to process better jet fuels that emit far less carbon with fuels created from nuclear energy related sources. The public needs to embrace the possibilities with Nuclear Energy.

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