Outstanding environmental and financial performance in Ontario electricity: thanks, and no thanks, to the usual suspects

On the weekend just passed, Ontario’s electricity generation sector turned in perhaps its best performance in decades. The carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per kilowatt-hour generated—called the CIPK—were as low as I have ever seen them. This was because most of our power came from nuclear and hydro, which emit zero CO2. Wind, an allegedly CO2-free generating source, produced negligible amounts and had almost no effect on the CIPK. The table below shows nuclear, wind, and total generation from Friday the 16th through Sunday the 18th. Look at the CIPK on the weekend: those are averages, but the benign weather meant that little fossil capacity was put into production, which means that the CIPK was more or less similar through each weekend day.

Day Nuclear Wind Total Total CO2, tons CIPK, grams
Aug. 16 283,381 2,857 419,008 15,289 36.49
Aug. 17 285,702 2,749 399,486 7,350 18.40
Aug. 18 285,086 2,481 398,712 7,394 18.54

The weekend CIPK numbers are simply stunning: not even 19 grams per kWh. Contrast that with Germany’s annual performance in 2009: 500 grams per kWh. That is more than 26 times as high as Ontario.

And that was before Germany panicked and ran from nuclear power after the 2011 Japan tsunami, in addition to killing tens of thousands of people and making half a million homeless, caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which, 4652 days hence, has yet to result in a single human casualty.

There is a major difference between the environmental impact of Ontario electricity versus that of Germany. Ontario is 26 times cleaner. Yet Germany is held up by alleged environmentalists as the model the world, including Ontario, should follow.

And why? Because Germany, like Ontario, forces its citizens to pay huge subsidies to owners of wind turbines. And, in spite of massive numbers of new wind turbines, Germany’s CIPK has gone UP since its nuclear phaseout. That is because wind energy has the same impact on the CIPK in Germany as it does in Ontario. Have another look at the table above: wind played almost no role in Ontario’s amazingly low CIPK on the past weekend.

Nuclear is the decisive difference. Germany is phasing out its nuclear fleet, and therefore its CIPK, which was 500 grams in 2009, will go up. My guess is it will climb to over 600 grams.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s CIPK rarely exceeds 150 grams. And last weekend proved it can be less than 20 grams.

For Ontario electricity rate-payers, last weekend’s excellent nuclear and hydro performance, which coincided with wind going AWOL, was very good financial news. Nuclear and hydro are two of the least expensive generating sources; wind is among the most expensive. It was our pure luck that wind was AWOL; otherwise we would have had to pay through the nose for it—grid rules are actually set up so that wind power receives priority and we rate-payers must buy it whether we need it or not.

Why we would have a rule like that is beyond me. It is like paying the laziest employee with the worst attendance record the highest salary. Economically, it is bass-ackwards. And morally: well, should we be forcing elderly retirees on fixed incomes to pay top dollar for the lowest-quality electricity?

Both Ontario nuclear utilities, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and Bruce Power, turned in whiz-bang performances over the weekend. Publicly owned OPG, in spite of grid rules and provincial policies that tilt the board in favour of privately-owned generators using fossil fuels, routinely produces profits on behalf of the citizens of the province who are its ultimate owners. (OPG recently announced very good second-quarter financial results.) One hundred percent of OPG’s dividends go into Ontario’s general revenues; less than 15 percent of the private generators’ dividends do.

Bruce Power’s stellar performance also provided a financial benefit, and not just through its taxes on profits. Bruce leases its equipment—eight CANDU reactors plus the generators attached to them—from OPG. Its lease payments therefore contribute to OPG’s profit. It’s a win-win.

Bruce Power also does another enormous service to Ontario, beyond providing us with about one-third of our electricity. It represents a profitable way for corporations, pension funds, and unions to pool their money for their own and the public good. And it represents a way for Ontario to pay for new nuclear plants, in addition to floating public bonds. As I mentioned back in April (see article), Bruce gets a slightly higher rate for its electricity than OPG does. That slightly higher rate was intended to compensate the partners for the financial risk they took in taking over the station. It has succeeded admirably: the partners cover their risk, and ratepayers get affordable, reliable electricity.

Ontario needs more nuclear energy.

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robert budd
10 years ago

Thanks for continually trying to set the record straight on emissions in Ontario Steve. The direction we are being dragged in by the GEEA and it’s proponents has been based on a disturbing misrepresentation of fact.
I have a good friend in Germany who constantly relates her dismay at the loss of green space and ag. land to turbines and PV arrays. The latest in her home town was a reforested area. The trees were yanked out and chipped for bio-mass along with any adjacent trees that might impinge on a groundmount solar array. This was so the retired teacher could access a FIT contract.
And all the while their CIPK goes up.

James Greenidge
10 years ago
Reply to  robert budd

Good article!!

If only the story of Robert Budd’s poor friend was widely publicized along with nuclear reliability/safety stats — especially in Vermont!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

10 years ago

As much as this article is excellent and the world should be hearing (reading) the information presented, it is also not a main stream information vehicle. If you can provide such informative information to the masses via widely circulated methods it would be profoundly stated to a wider audience.


10 years ago
Reply to  HeatherB

I agree. Many of Steve’s articles need a wider audience and should get coverage in the bigger news media like the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. Not sure what it takes to get stories accepted. There’s also MacLeans and Canadian Geographic as possible magazines who might cover it. Even letters to the editor would get wider readership.

Ron Hartlen
10 years ago

Yes, get the big message out to the general public and the electorate, particularly in urban areas!! Couldn’t agree more!! The Public needs to know that Wind Power in Ontario provides essentially no benefit to air quality and the environment; and that in fact building more wind power will cause emissions to increase.