Power generation, air quality, and talking to Americans: how to truly lead by example

Ontario’s electricity debate has produced more than its share of wacky ideas. But none is more bizarre than the notion that closing the provincial coal-fired generating plants will compel the Americans to follow our example.

American utilities generate over half of their electricity with coal. The sheer size of continental coal reserves means they could continue doing so for another two and a half centuries. So Ontario can sacrifice and moralize all it wants, but the Americans won’t stop generating power with coal. It’s just not going to happen.

Happily, the Liberals have come to their senses and abandoned the coal phase-out. Even better, Ontario has already begun to lead by example. The recent nuclear announcement means Ontario will at least maintain the fifty percent nuclear proportion in our generation mix. Together with large-scale hydro, this means that three-quarters of Ontario’s generating capacity is emission free. Not bad for an advanced industrialized economy.

Ontario government wants to show full leadership on trans-boundary air quality, it should increase nuclear’s proportion to beyond the intended fifty percent. As I showed in my June 8 post, increasing the proportion to sixty percent—the situation that existed in 1994—would chop power-related emissions to less than half of what they are now.

Next, the government should finish the cleaner coal implementation at Ontario’s coal plants. Aside from electrostatic precipitators, only six of the fifteen coal-fired generating units in this province are currently equipped with any kind of emission-control devices. Of these six, only two are designed for sulphur removal.

It would cost around $3.5 billion to equip the remaining nine units with new emission control devices. This would—according to manufacturers of these devices—remove the lion’s share of the nitrogen and sulphur emissions from coal generation.

If the Liberals are serious about a new air quality agreement with neighboring U.S. states, then $3.5 billion for emission controls at Ontario’s coal plants will be money well spent. It will show to the Americans—and the rest of the world—that you can have clean air, plentiful electricity, and a healthy economy.

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17 years ago

You only have to look at this article to see why you can’t believe any election promises from the Ontario Liberal Party.

Steve Aplin
17 years ago

Interesting comment, apparently from a tenants rights group. I can’t tell whether or not the commenter approves of my approval of the Ontario Liberals’ back-down from their coal pledge. Nevertheless, tenants should be concerned about electricity rates. They should also be concerned about the coal phase-out, because it would force Ontario onto the only other fossil fuel alternative, natural gas, which will drive electricity prices up. There IS an economy-friendly way to cut emissions from the power sector, and that’s by using more nuclear power. Thanks for the comment, James.