Keystone fight approaches criticality: TransCanada’s biggest clean asset stays critical

TransCanada Inc., the favourite pinata of green fashionistas, is part owner of Bruce Power, which operates the biggest clean energy centre in the western hemisphere. Every hour of every day, the Bruce nuclear generating plant on the eastern shore of Lake Huron cranks out between 4,000 and 6,000 megawatts of clean electricity—more than enough to power the entire city of Toronto 24 hours a day. At 0730 this morning (August 16 2013), the plant was generating 5,745 megawatts. Not one of those megawatts came with a single gram of CO2.

If the Bruce plant were powered with natural gas instead of nuclear, it would, every hour, dump between 2,200 and 3,300 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

Over a single year, a gas-fired Bruce plant would dump between 19 million and 29 million tons of CO2. And over 50 years, that would work out to between 0.9 billion and 1.4 billion tons.

TransCanada is the green fashionistas’ favourite pinata ostensibly because it wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline to carry Alberta synthetic crude oil to U.S. gulf coast refineries. Pipeline transport is by far the cheapest and safest way to transport liquid fuel in bulk. The alternative is to move the fuel by truck or train, both of which necessitate huge numbers of individual shipments. This dramatically increases the likelihood of accidents like the one that devastated Lac Megantic in Quebec back in July.

In spite of this, green lobbyists are intensifying their war against Keystone, on the grounds that it will carry “dirty” oil. Alberta synthetic crude, they say, comes with higher CO2 emissions than conventional crude. One of these green groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council, has quantified the meaning of higher: the NRDC says that if Keystone goes ahead, the extra CO2 emissions would amount to nearly a billion tons over 50 years.

Here’s the kicker, though. The NRDC opposes nuclear power, even though nuclear has by far the smallest environmental footprint of any electric power generation technology. The NRDC wants nuclear plants replaced with natural gas-fired ones (see article).

Well, just earlier in this article I gave a figure that represents how the NRDC’s desire to replace nuclear with gas would shake out in the real world. If the Bruce nuclear plant were generating say 4,000 megawatts of electricity using natural gas instead of nuclear, it would dump nearly one billion tons of CO2 over 50 years.

(Item 1 on the upper right of this blog gives an hour-by-hour estimate of the upshot of replacing nuclear with gas in Ontario. In the hour preceding 0700 a.m. this morning, Ontario electricity generators dumped 647 tons of CO2 into the air. Had the nuclear plant been replaced with gas-fired generators, as green lobbyists want, that amount would have been 7,199 tons.)

That is the same amount of carbon pollution the NRDC says Keystone would add, over the same period.

And it represents only one nuclear plant. There are nearly 120 nuclear plants in North America.

How many billions of tons of carbon pollution would be dumped into our common air over the next 50 years if groups like NRDC were to get their way?

Keystone XL is subject to the approval of the U.S. president. He is supposed to make a final decision yes or no some time over the next few months. This is why the rhetoric over the pipeline has become so vociferous. In the coming days and weeks, more people should become aware of TransCanada’s part ownership of Bruce Power. This critical asset (pun intended) is doing more to fight climate change than anything groups like NRDC have ever done or ever will.

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10 years ago

I’m not sure how much credit TransCanada pipeline should get for Bruce’s success running it nuclear plants. But you’re absolutely right about NRDC’s misplaced alliance with natural gas. Maybe TransCanada should get credit for investing in the winner that Bruce’s nuclear plants have been both environmentally and economically. The province of Ontario reached 70% nuclear on the weekend. I am pretty sure Obama will agree to the pipeline. He is an caught up in the corporatocracy. The US needs our oil. Rejecting it is too out of sync with Obama’s attitude toward nuclear and Moniz’s support for natural gas and the drive for independence from foreign oil. The fossil fuel business still dominates everywhere.