Ontario eyes federal emission credits: it all depends on electricity

It could be down to the wire in the ongoing battle between Ontario and the federal government over emission reduction credits. Specifically, wires—yet to be built—capable of wheeling 2,200 megawatts of nuclear and wind power from the Bruce peninsula to the southern Ontario market. Current transmission capacity isn’t sufficient to handle 2,200 megawatts.

The current transmission capacity is, however, sufficient to handle an additional 1,500 MW, which is the combined capacity of the remaining laid-up reactors at the Bruce nuclear generating plant. (In its heyday, the Bruce station generated close to 6,000 MW. How else did its power get to market?) When those two reactors re-enter service in 2010, their power will certainly get priority along the existing line. That is because the Ontario provincial government guaranteed Bruce Power—the company that runs the Bruce reactors and is paying to refurbish the laid-up ones—that there would be a market for the reactors’ output.

But there are also 700 MW of wind generators planned for the area. Why will the nuclear-generated power get priority on the existing line? Because nuclear power, unlike wind, is dispatchable. Having 700 MW of installed wind capacity is no guarantee that there will be 700 MW of energy flowing from those wind generators. As I write this, just after ten a.m. on June 10, Ontario’s windmills are generating 50 MW—not even 7 percent of the 771 MW of installed wind capacity. Collectively, they are contributing less than one percent of Ontario’s power.

With that kind of variability, there’s no way Ontario can count on wind to help meet the Canadian federal government emission reduction target by the end of 2010. (The feds will grant emission credits to any sector whose emissions in 2011 are 18 percent below its 2006 level.)

Ontario will, however, count on nuclear. The 1,500 MW from the refurbished Bruce units, combined with output from the rest of the Ontario nuclear fleet, will push nuclear’s contribution to nearly 12,000 MW. Yesterday (June 9, 2008), Ontario generators put over 496 million kilowatt-hours into the grid. Twelve thousand MW of nuclear capacity would have generated roughly 288 million kWh. Together with hydro’s actual 107 million kWh, this would have ensured that nearly 80 percent of yesterday’s electricity was emission-free.

More important, that baseload threshold would result in average monthly emissions of just over 1 million tonnes during the “moderate” months (April, May, September, October, and November) and 2.5 million tonnes in the seven “intense” months. Over one year, this would result in emissions of roughly 23.3 million tonnes. According to the new federal formula, Ontario’s annual emissions have to be at or below 24.6 million tonnes by the end of 2010.

It will be possible, then, to meet the federal target without expanding the transmission line. But the line should still be expanded. You never know how windy 2010 will be. Those windmills might produce power at a higher capacity factor.

Expanding the transmission capacity won’t be easy. It will require buying right of way from some 400 owners of property along the proposed route. These include two First Nations. A recent Supreme Court ruling said government has a constitutional duty to consult with First Nations on matters involving land. Land claims are complex and difficult to resolve, and this may well add time to the negotiations.

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15 years ago

One of the main advantages of nuclear fission is the fact that you can place the reactor near the users. Long transmission lines are not necessary, like they are for hydro power and wind. Ontario’s new reactors should be underground, right in the middle of Toronto. It is curious how we refuse to take full advantage of the real advantages of fission.

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