In 3 short months, Ontarians will have the opportunity to participate in a public hearing on the future of the Pickering nuclear station. It is a very important hearing, and everyone who can participate should.
Briefly, the upshot of the hearing is whether Pickering will continue to put electrical power into Ontario’s grid after 2019.
If it does not, then Pickering’s electrical output will cease, and be replaced with natural gas.
Here’s how that could shake out. The charts on the left represent actual generation over the ten days up to around noon on February 6 (top left) and what that fuel mix would look like if gas were to replace Pickering (bottom left). The right-hand charts represent how those two fuel mix scenarios look cost-wise.
As you can see, the gas-replaces-Pickering scenario would have cost $53 million more than what it actually cost—which is pretty high already. Over a year, the gas-replaces-Pickering scenario could cost Ontario ratepayers an additional roughly $1.8 billion.
Notice how the proportional contributions of each fuel change from MWh generated to cost, i.e. that the thick dark blue (nuclear) and light-light blue (hydro) bands shrink in the cost chart, and how much the light beige (solar) band grows from generation to cost. This is because the costs of the different types of generation in Ontario’s system are roughly as follows:
- Nuclear: 6.3 cents.
- Hydro: 4.9 cents.
- Gas: ~15 cents.
- Wind: ~11.9 cents.
- Solar: ~49.9 cents.
To be clear, these are estimates of the contracted/regulated costs per kilowatt-hour of energy from each major source, and they are based on figures from the Ontario Auditor General’s 2015 report.
And to continue being clear, they also represent only the generators’ side of the ledger. i.e., they represent an estimate of the average per-kWh monetary amount that individual generating entities received for energy, within each of the major generator types.1
They do not represent what the classes of ratepayers paid for that same energy. That is a different matter.
And CO2? Here’s how the picture could look, beginning as early as 2019:
As you can see, there will be a significant increase in CO2 emissions when gas replaces Pickering. Over the past ten days, had gas provided Pickering’s output the CO2 cost would have been over 373,000 tons—three times as high as it actually was. Over a year, that works out to over 13 million tons.
That’s right: slightly increase the thickness of the light blue (natural gas) band in the Actual scenario (i.e., produce the gas-replaces-Pickering scenario), and we not only triple our CO2 but also add $53 million to our collective power bills every 10 days.
What would happen if we added more gas than that?
From the generation costs given in the bullet list above, we can infer the effective cost of carbon dioxide (CO2) avoidance in power generation in Ontario, given that natural gas is effectively our only polluting generation fuel.
(The amount of “biomass” generation is so tiny that it is not worth mentioning and is not considered in this analysis—if you look very closely at the charts, you’ll see an extremely thin brownish layer representing “othren.” That stands for Other Renewable. i.e., biomass. Our system operator only reports it for political reasons.)
The cost of avoiding the emission of one ton of CO2, by fuel, is as follows:
- Nuclear: -$233.
- Hydro: -$265.
- Gas: –
- Wind: -$79.
- Solar: $899.
(For a fuller explanation of the above numbers, see this article.)
Ontario faces a CO2 future that resembles the lower row of the CO2 chart. This future could begin as early as next year—2019, the year that the current Pickering hold point of 247,000 EFPH is reached.
It will definitely begin in 2024, which is when OPG says it will take the plant out of service.
And Ontario has really only one option for further decarbonization of its economy. That option is nuclear power.
Which is to say, we must replace Pickering, and we must begin planning for it now. We really should begin building the new plant now.
There are absolutely no plans to do this. The Ontario government appears comfortable with making us ratepayers pay $899 to avoid dumping a single ton of CO2 using solar power. Even though we could save money avoiding the same ton with nuclear.
If you can, try to attend the CNSC hearings on OPG’s request to push back the Pickering EFPH hold point. A lot depends on how that request is handled.
Here is some information on the hearing schedule.
- My assumption of course is that the gas that replaces Pickering would be priced the same as in the list above, i.e. at roughly 15 cents. I know that gas is allegedly cheap today, and that it could be argued that the per-kWh rate would surely be renegotiated (downward) when the currently mostly idle combined cycle plants in Ontario become baseload providers to pick up Pickering’s departure.
It could be argued that, certainly.
But given the huge rates still being offered to wind and solar developers, how credible is it to base cost projections on the assumption that those negotiating allegedly on Ontario’s behalf would be any less generous to the purveyors of gas-fired power than they are with those of wind and solar?