Smart choices in Ontario electricity: it’s all about what is proven and clean

Today’s Toronto Star has a story by John Spears featuring the natural gas lobby’s take on how the Ontario Long Term Energy Plan should be revised. Spears writes this: “Without being explicit, [Enbridge president] Guy Jarvis issued a carefully worded caution to energy planners not to assign a bigger role to nuclear energy than is merited by economic and environmental needs.”

I thought that was a bit amusing. The only reason natural gas-fired electric power generation in Ontario has gotten so close to the mouth watering opportunity of replacing nuclear is because coal was phased out. Coal was phased out ostensibly because of its bad environmental image. In reality it was phased out so as to give natural gas the inside track to the lucrative power generation market. It was a business competition, and the gas industry and its astro-turf pseudo-environmental mouthpieces like the Ontario Clean Air Alliance persuaded the government that coal was bad.

And why is coal bad, according to the environmental lobby? Because it coal-fired power generators emit roughly a kilogram of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal man-made greenhouse gas, for every kilowatt-hour of electricity the put into the grid.

Coal was absolutely not phased out because it is expensive. It is dirt cheap, which is why Ontario used it in the first place. It is costing Ontario Power Generation, the provincially owned crown corporation that owns the four coal plants, a lot of money to close the plants down, prematurely and well before the end of the plants’ useful lives.

So let’s be clear: phasing out coal is costing Ontario money. That means it is costing Ontario citizens (I am one of them) money, because technically we own OPG and OPG’s profits from the sale of electricity belong to us. Which in turn means that the costs of phasing out coal are eating into the profits that help pay for our roads, hospitals, and schools. Which means that the coal phase out had better be worth while.

The Enbridge president must think that Ontario’s Long Term Energy Plan should be revised not along economic but environmental lines. Otherwise, what could he say: coal is cheap. So when he urges Ontario to consider the merits of nuclear energy, he must have the environmental benefits uppermost in mind.

Well, then let’s look at those environmental benefits. Have a look at Tables 1 and 2 in the left-hand sidebar. Which fuels are dumping carbon dioxide (CO2), the main man-made greenhouse gas, into Ontario’s once-pristine air? Mostly natural gas and coal, with the vast bulk of it coming from natural gas.

Nuclear, as you can see, has emitted zero CO2 per kilowatt-hour generated. It also generates by far most of Ontario’s electricity: more than all other sources combined. In fact, from midnight to nine a.m. today (June 21, 2013—the first day of summer), nuclear has generated over 106 million kilowatt-hours, over 67 percent, of Ontario’s power, with zero CO2 emissions. Gas has generated less than one percent of our power, and has dumped 6,253 metric tons of CO2 into our air. See Table 2.

Why do self-styled environmentalists want nuclear also phased out? After all, they claim to be concerned about air quality and climate change. Why would they oppose an energy source that is clearly the best option when it comes to air quality and climate change?

Well, in the case of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, it is because somebody is paying them to oppose nuclear. That somebody is none other than Enbridge. Enbridge would sell a lot of natural gas to Ontario if Ontario were to be so foolish as to abandon nuclear, which has provided hundreds of billions of kilowatt-hours of clean, cheap electricity for decades.

Unfortunately, if Enbridge were to get its way, Ontario electric power CO2 emissions would skyrocket to over 60 million tons per year.

Considering that a political crisis occurred because Ontario electric power CO2 emissions jumped to over 40 million tons in 2000, I cannot see how adding 20 million tons could help.

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10 years ago

Here’s a story: Alberta has no nuclear plants, and has a government whose leader has promised will never have one built, because “Albertans fear it”. I don’t recall Enbridge raising a whisper of protest about those utterly political decisions, choosing fossil fuels, and excluding nuclear. I think that’s obvious hypocrisy, and explained by the fact that Enbridge, as a business, rightly doesn’t care two figs about energy policy, except to see the building of as many pipelines as possible.

James Greenidge
10 years ago

Re: “Alberta has no nuclear plants, and has a government whose leader has promised will never have one built, because “Albertans fear it”.

That says it all in a nutshell, doesn’t it? All the political reasoning and rationality and researched assessments for hinging one’s crucial decision on not doing something distills to “they fear it.”

Gee, the teachers of Alberta ought be hanging their heads in shame for providing their citizenry such well-rounded fact and logic-based science education. Applause Alberta!

James Greenidge
Queens NY


10 years ago

I wonder how many Albertans recognize the sick climate that caused their catastrophic flooding was the result of Alberta’s energy policy contributing to that sick climate.