Canadian government’s nuclear-friendly rules set the stage for new wave of power investment

As I advocated back in December and many times before (see article), the Canadian federal government will allow Ontario to offset greenhouse gas emissions from the provincial coal-fired generating plants with nuclear power. This means that Ontario Power Generation—the company that owns and operates the four coal plants—will be assessed on the basis of company-wide emissions. OPG can continue offering coal-generated power to the market, and can offset coal emissions with power from plants that emit less, or no, emissions. Recent Ontario history proves the best and most economical form of non-emitting generation is nuclear.

I have also predicted that OPG, and the new federal rules governing its emissions, are a model for other power utilities whose fleets include coal-fired generators. Coal dominates Alberta’s de-regulated power system, which emitted more than 52 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2004—fifty percent more than Ontario’s, which generated two-and-a-half times as much power. I hope the feds are negotiating similar rules with Alberta, because this would allow Alberta coal utilities to purchase offsets from less-emitting generating companies elsewhere in Canada. Eventually, it should be possible to do this anywhere in North America.

If the rules allow less-emitting generation to offset coal generation, the nuclear renaissance will become a reality. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects seventeen U.S. utility companies to submit twenty construction and operating license applications for thirty-one new reactors. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission expects similar applications for new Ontario plants.

North American power sector emissions will drop if a greater proportion of the continental generator fleet goes nuclear. Offset rules will help accomplish this.

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