McGuinty’s unsung carbon achievement: the result of the unsung energy source

Bob Chiarelli, Ontario’s new energy minister, is a rock steady, highly competent high level guy. He is the right man in the right portfolio, especially considering that his government has entered its first major set of rapids, with his revelation that his ministry has discovered yet more documents relating to the gas plant cancellations. Chiarelli was the mayor of my home town of Ottawa for many years. He was a superb mayor and even though I come from Dipper stock and he is a Liberal I tried to get him reelected in 2006. I was extremely disappointed that that effort was not successful. One of his greatest moments was during the Ice Storm of 1998; when there’s a crisis, he is the kind of guy you want at the helm.

Chiarelli steering: the Wynne Liberals have just entered their first set of serious rapids, with the energy minister’s stunning announcement that there are yet more documents related to the cancelled gas plants. If I were in that boat, I would want Chiarelli to be steering.

Like his predecessor Chris Bentley, Chiarelli had nothing to do with any of the decisions surrounding the gas plants. The most controversial of these decisions was cancelling the Mississauga gas plant just days before the October 2011 provincial election. That appears to have been a political campaign decision. This was confirmed this afternoon by the premier herself, in an interview with Steve Paikin; see below.

So Chiarelli is in the Energy portfolio today, as Bentley was before him, to handle a mess that somebody else caused. Well, that’s politics. As I said, he is the right man for that job. That’s leadership.

“Leadership’s when they give you the ball. Sometimes you don’t even want the ball… .”

—Bob Dole, U.S. Republican senator and aspiring presidential candidate, 1987, referring to his thankless job of steering through the senate confirmation process the ultimately unsuccessful nomination of Robert Bork to the supreme court.

Chiarelli’s main strategic challenge, beyond handling the gas plant fiasco, is to reframe the previous premier’s energy record as one of shining success. That is not hard to do, provided he keeps his eye on the right ball.

The right ball is: carbon reductions. Dalton McGuinty’s real aim in phasing out the Ontario coal-fired power plants was to reduce carbon emissions. These had climbed to a whopping 42 million tons annually from Ontario’s electricity generation sector; this was the direct result of the previous governments’ having deferred the refurbishment of the provincial nuclear fleet.

The year that McGuinty effectively left office, 2012, Ontario annual power sector carbon emissions had dropped to around 16 million tons.

To repeat: when McGuinty became premier, annual power sector carbon emissions were 43 million tons; when he left office, they were 16 million tons.

That is a stunning achievement. And it is almost totally unsung, including, incredibly, by McGuinty himself. I wrote about this remarkable omission an article entitled “Dalton McGuinty: the clean energy premier who covered up a proud environmental record.” In that article, I wondered if McGuinty had become, in the maelstrom of pressure that goes with being premier, too fixated on the politically correct how of carbon reductions instead of simply going with what was working.

What was working was, of course, the provincial nuclear fleet. The greatest environmental developments that occurred under McGuinty’s premiership were the return to service of six of the eight laid up nuclear units. That, not the much-touted Green Energy Act, was what restored Ontario to its position of unassailable leadership in carbon reductions.

Bob Chiarelli should point up this record, because it is a proud one. It also has nothing to do with the gas plants.

8 comments for “McGuinty’s unsung carbon achievement: the result of the unsung energy source

  1. February 22, 2013 at 01:46

    I agree with you Steve. Truly a great accomplishment. McGuinty’s accomplishment won’t be sung until more people wake up to recognizing that we cannot take Ontario’s reliable nuclear energy for granted.
    I just thought of a pretty good analogy. Nuclear is like mighty mouse. It takes up very little space for all that power. I will not list the negatives that people usually pick on that are associated with nuclear power because the good outweighs the “so-called” bad by far. There are few places that can proudly say “we no longer use coal.” We’re almost there.

    • February 22, 2013 at 07:50

      Rick, thanks. Mighty Mouse — great analogy. Did you know that all three Ontario nuclear plants would fit easily into the area occupied by the Wolfe Island wind farm? Wolfe Island’s capability at seven a.m. today was 198 MW, actual output is 3 MW; the nuclear fleet’s capability is 9,959 and output is 9,832.

      The nuclear fleet, which can fit easily into Wolfe Island’s area, has more than fifty times the capacity, and is right now generating more than three thousand times as much electricity.

      • February 22, 2013 at 18:02

        One day you might try giving a chart that expresses how much of the time wind is below five or ten percent capacity and how much of the time nuclear is below that. Well we know never.

  2. Lynne
    February 23, 2013 at 12:48

    Could this be a game-changer?

    http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/looping203.htm

    New Coal Technology Harnesses Energy Without Burning, Nears Pilot-Scale Development
    For 203 continuous hours, the Ohio State combustion unit produced heat from coal while capturing 99 percent of the carbon dioxide produced in the reaction.

    Ohio State’s Clean Coal Research Laboratory, pioneered the technology called Coal-Direct Chemical Looping (CDCL), which chemically harnesses coal’s energy and efficiently contains the carbon dioxide produced before it can be released into the atmosphere.

    • February 23, 2013 at 21:19

      203 hours is some 13 hours short of 9 days, hardly an accomplishment for industrial processes.  Chemical-looping combustion has been in the news for some time, but it appears to be both (a) a solution in search of a problem, and (b) reliant upon other things—such as large, cheap reservoirs for CO2—to achieve the promised results.

      Nuclear gets rid of the CO2 and toxic air emissions by not creating them.

  3. robert budd
    February 23, 2013 at 19:52

    Can’t agree that Dalton has done On.a great service with this provinces emissions, starting with canceling pollution control work at Nanticoke upon taking office, then running it for more than a decade.
    Yes the renewed nuclear has provided great benefit, but much of the public still firmly believes wind turbines and solar did that. The Liberals created and have stick to a misinformation campaign re. our electricty supply that it taking us down the road to higher emissions and greater reliance on fossil gas with wind and solar.
    They have worked hand in glove with the incorrectly named Clean Air Alliance to sell the GEA that screws many rural people and damns the environment. Remember that group above all else wants a nuclear phaseout.
    The real hope for emissions in On. is certainly more nuclear, smarter grid and electrified or natural gas powered transit. But Dalton and crew haven’t and will not give people the real picture of what our energy supply mix looks like and where its going. Too many commitments made to “green energy” interests and the soon to be required campaign funds to do that now.

    • February 24, 2013 at 10:39

      Robert, good points and I won’t argue with you on any of them. I remember that Nanticoke and Lambton were accused, via a bunch of bogus pseudo-statistics, of killing people — that was the original reason advanced for phasing out coal. In that light, running the plants for another decade without NOx/SOx controls on most of the stacks was an admission that the death-by-coal argument was bogus to begin with.

      I also totally agree that the equally bogus argument that “green” energy was cleaning up Ontario’s air emissions constitutes a rank abuse of the general ear of Ontario.

      Nevertheless, the refurbished nuclear units did come back into service under McGuinty. Unsung, but still operating.

      It’s up to the nuclear industry to point this out. There are some signs that the industry is willing to do this. I just hope it’s not too little too late.

      • February 24, 2013 at 12:19

        There’s always the medium of letters the editor and guest op-ed columns.

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