Anyone interested in the role that major clean energy capital projects play in local, regional, and national economies should watch the upcoming refurbishment at the Darlington nuclear generating station on Lake Ontario. Darlington is the second-biggest clean energy centre in the Western Hemisphere (the biggest is the Bruce nuclear station on Lake Huron). At 0800 this morning Darlington was generating 3,489 megawatts of carbon-free electricity—that was nearly 18 percent of Ontario’s total generation. The station is vitally important to Ontario, Canada, and the planet. Without it, we would be getting those 3,489 MW of electricity from natural gas fired plants, and dumping, every single hour of every day, nearly 2,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal greenhouse gas, into our air. Much of that CO2 winds up in the world’s oceans, making them more acidic. Acidification is a major environmental problem, and threatens vital fisheries.
The refurbishment of this plant involves replacing major components of the reactor and heat transport system. It is a massive undertaking, and requires a highly skilled and well coordinated workforce. Most of that workforce will live within commuting distance of the plant, which means that these thousands of high paid men and women will spend significant amounts of their disposable income in the community that hosts the plant. That is extremely welcome news for the host community: it means that local businesses will thrive and hire local workers, who will themselves have disposable income to spend. The host community, centred on Courtice, Ontario, has thrived for years because of Darlington.
It is difficult to imagine a more positive and wide-ranging outcome from the 1979 decision of Ontario Hydro, the former vertically integrated provincially owned electric utility, to build this clean energy centre. Darlington over its 23 years of operation has generated close to 750 billion kilowatt-hours of clean energy, and thereby avoided the dumping of 403 million metric tons of ocean acidifying CO2. It has generated over $30 billion in revenue for the publicly owned company that runs it; when that public company makes a profit, which is often, we citizens of Ontario are the beneficiaries.
Former Areva North America CEO Jacques Besnainou referred to in-operation nuclear plants as “cash machines.” He is right. Once built, nuclear plants generate enormous amounts of steady electricity, and hence enormous amounts of steady revenue. That is why the company that owns Darlington, Ontario Power Generation (which is the generation successor of Ontario Hydro), will refurbish the plant. Refurbishment will give each of the four reactors another 25 to 30 years of operating life. That means another 750 billion kWh, and another $30 billion earned on behalf of the people of Ontario.
Even better, refurbishment will bring thousands of high paid workers into the area, which means more jobs in the local economy.
Best of all, it means Ontario will avoid dumping another 400 million metric tons of ocean acidifying CO2 into the air.
Ontario could do even better than this. The provincial government has called for 2,000 megawatts of new nuclear capacity at Darlington. That capacity represents 230 million more tons of CO2 avoided over the first 25 years of the operation of that plant.
We should get on with building this new capacity. We are leading the world today in clean energy; let’s extend that lead.