Ontario’s world-beating climate change express train is about to careen off the rails

How much carbon pollution will Ontario’s electricity generating sector dump into the air after 2020, when the Pickering B nuclear station comes out of service and there are multi-year refurbishment outages at the Bruce and Darlington nuclear plants? Remember that by 2020 the Pickering station, which today represents 3,090 megawatts of zero-carbon generating capacity (6 units at 515 MW each) will have been retired. That will leave 9,720 MW of nuclear capacity, of which roughly 6,400 MW will be in service as the refurbishments proceed.

So what does all this mean for our atmosphere, which we have all pledged to protect from unnecessary carbon dioxide emissions?

The answer is depressing.

The table below shows the Ontario grid generation mix on a fairly typical hot summer weekday last July—July 18 2013 to be exact.

Ontario generation and carbon emissions, July 18 2013
Fuel Mwh CO2, tons
Nuclear 269,002 0
Gas 117,873 61,617
Hydro 92,614 0
Coal 37,730 36,760
Other 11,346 5,504
Wind 6,760 0
Total 535,325 103,881
average CIPK over period: 194.05 grams

As usual, the nuclear fleet did by far most of the heavy lifting on that sweltering day, providing more than half Ontario’s power. What is alarming is the sheer amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that came with the power that the combustible-fuel sources provided: more than 103,000 metric tons, 61,617 tons of which came from allegedly clean natural gas-fired plants.

Unfortunately, it may turn out that that was Ontario’s finest hour in the war on climate change. With last week’s announcement that new nuclear units have been cancelled, our once-proud province is set to re-carbonize our grid in a big way. In 2020, the Pickering station, as I mentioned, will be retired. Only around 6,400 megawatts of Canadian-made CO2-free capacity will be available to the grid.

Let’s say that in the summer of 2020 we get another July weekday similar to July 18 2013. Let’s say Ontario generators are called on to provide another 535 million kWh like they were on July 18 2013. (That of course assumes there is no increase in Ontario demand, which is a dangerous assumption. But let’s just assume it for the sake of argument.)

Well, here is how that day will look from the point of view of the war on climate change:

Ontario generation and carbon emissions, July weekday in 2020
Fuel Mwh CO2, tons
Nuclear 155,280 0
Gas 269,325 148,129
Hydro 92,614 0
Coal 0 0
Other 11,346 5,504
Wind 6,760 0
Total 535,325 153,633
average CIPK over period: 286.99 grams

As you can see, we will have dumped nearly 50,000 additional tons of CO2 into our air.

Over one single year, that replacement of roughly 4,800 MW of CO2-free nuclear with CO2-heavy natural gas will mean that we dump more than 23 million tons of CO2 into our air.

That just about wipes out the stunning progress Ontario has made on climate change over the past decade.

I know that that stunning progress has gone almost entirely ignored by everyone (a notable exception is Margaret Wente, who pointed it up in her Globe and Mail column last July).

But just because anti-nuclear “environmentalists” ignore it does not mean the earth has not noticed. Atmospheric CO2, already grievously imbalanced because of human use of fossil fuels like the natural gas the “greens” have been selling, has an impact on the earth. It throws natural atmospheric thermodynamics out of whack. It absorbs in to the world’s oceans, turning them more acidic.

Ontario was on track to leading the world in proving you can run a modern jurisdiction on electricity that is admirably low in CO2. We could have charged toward world-beating climate change progress like an express train. The recently announced decision to cancel new reactors at the Darlington plant has sent us careening off those rails.

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9 years ago

I take your point that an increase in natural gas emissions is not good. However, your analysis has no value. It pretends that all things stay the same for 7 years.

The province is investing in new energy conservation initiatives that will likely see electricity demand continue to fall in real terms by more than 10% by 2020.

Ontario also continues to rapidly build out wind, solar, biomass, and hydro power, not to mention potential co-generation projects that reduce heating emissions elsewhere, and grid storage which reduces the need for peaking generation supplied by natural gas.

Your scenario has a zero % chance of coming to pass. In fact, it is entirely possible for us to reduce the percentage of both natural gas and nuclear generation as part of the mix in the next decade, which will reduce electricity prices in the long-term.

9 years ago
Reply to  Adam

What is this grid storage? Can you please explain, with numbers. What is the technology, where will it be located, what will be the capacity and how much will it cost?

3GW of baseload taken away will require 3GW of something else that can be relied upon. We have to be talking about like things. Conservation by 10%… fine, that finds us perhaps 1.5GW (note: the population of Ontario continues to grow along with the economy [we hope], so 10% cut in real terms over the next 7 years means a much deeper cut on per capita basis – or are we hoping for a general economic contraction at the same time?).

So, how do we get the balance of 1-2GW in the form of *dispatchable* renewable power (again – comparing like things)? If this is mostly wind, then we will need 4-8GW of new wind nameplate capacity assuming a typical 25% capacity factor.

Assuming 2MW wind turbines, 4-8GW will require 2000-4000 units. If we take the average price to be $3M apiece, we are talking $6$-12 Billion just for the hardware. Don’t forget, the lifetime of this gear is estimated to be about 20 years – so this is a recurring expense vs. a modern nuclear plant with a 50-60 year lifetime. Also, where are we going to put up to 4000 units!?!? That’s not some insignificant land-use problem. That would take up to about 2000 sq. km or so (1/2 sq. km. each: a 700m grid of turbines everywhere). (Note: one nuclear power site, Bruce Power, alone can power about 1/3 of the entire province).

How much grid expansion would be necessary to make that work given that Ontario’s mean power requirements run around only double this amount? I’m guessing this would require a grid build-out of something representing a significant fraction of the current province-wide grid (obviously). That alone must be worth a few billion.

Further, I am assume you would need at least several GW-days worth of storage to buffer 4-8GW of juice producing 1-2GW mean output? I’m not quite sure what that would look like nor how much it would cost. Anyone else got any ideas? What would it take to store just ONE GW-day of electricity? I don’t have a clue…

So far, my guesstimate to replace Pickering’s power gives us an order of magnitude guess of $10-$15B plus to cost of storage, which is still undefined, plus the cost of mythical “conservation”. I assume to conserve power on that scale will alone take significant investments, no?

I think the reality is that lost baseload power that is not covered by reduced demand will be met mostly by gas turbines. Cost, land-use, grid expansion, necessity of massive amounts of storage that doesn’t exist… the renewable model just doesn’t add up in my books.

The problems bedevilling wind and solar are a product of low capacity factors and the diffuse nature of the energy flows. These things are primary and fundamental, and are not subject to improvements via “innovation” or “Moore’s Law”. It like saying innovation can change the force of gravity or the amount of momentum of a moving column of air. Perhaps that’s why society moved away from relying upon natural energy flows as soon as steam-power fuelled by coal was discovered. Some things can’t be changed, like the laws of physics, no matter how hard we try.

robert budd
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam

Wow Adam, have another swig of that Dirty Air Alliance Kool-Aid. Absolutely going to have higher emissions beyond 2020. Look at Germany’s success in replacing nuclear. Emissions intensity 4x Ontario’s. Total eimssions increasing second year in a row. They get more energy from burning trees,garbage and corn than wind and solar. Solar and wind displacing green space. Now an off-shore assault on that ecosyatems. Oh and the highest electricity cost in the EU, if you care.
In Ontario solar was 1% of Global Adjustment last quarter and cost 11%. That doesn’t scale too well even with much decreased costs. Wind was 6% and 11% of cost. Not good either.
The last two hot summers wind was more often a load on the system at peak demand times than a useful source. Capacity factor <10%. I thanked God repeatedly for the 11,000mw our reactors put out day in day out this summer.
Almost everthing you suggested "wind, solar, biomass, , not to mention potential co-generation and storage" will be useless at getting us through those hot summer peak demand times that are the biggest threat to air quality and peoples health.
Much of the conservation you mention will actually be people switching away from cleaner but now painfully expensive electic to dirtier but cheaper nat.gas/wood. If you really want to decarbonize you want inexpensive clean baseload….which is nuclear here. Not the fluffy green lobbyist shyte your offering.

Ron Hartlen
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam

Dream on.

9 years ago
Reply to  Adam

Not one of the comments below actually address what I wrote. Did any of you even read my post?

Steve, your model is not accurate, and therefore its conclusions are not accurate.

To repeat myself. There are MANY factors influencing our electricity supply mix and our energy demand profile you are ignoring, or perhaps fail to understand.

If we do not build new nuclear plants, nuclear will still remain a large part of our electricity mix in 2020 (as you indicated). However, the province is already building out several other non- emitting replacement sources of generation that will definitely fill some of this gap (listed above). The remaining gap in generation can be easily, and cheaply filled by reducing both peak and base load demand modestly through incentives for building retrofits, building code changes, improved conservation demand management initiatives and basic market responses to higher prices. We aren’t the first jurisdiction to go down this path, its not theoretical.

All of this on top of one much more obvious point your graph misses: Even if we decided to build new nuclear reactors, there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that they would be in operation by 2020. (In the history of Candada, nukes are never on time, or on budget).

So what’s the point of this whole blog post but to throw rocks at renewable energy sources? Seems to me that the nuclear industry needs to deal with its own issues (cost, complexity, inflexibility, waste disposal, liability, and risk) if it wants to actually succeed. Attacking other sources of generation won’t solve the industry’s own problems in the long-run.

Steve Foster
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam

Yes, I read it and asked for details about the grid storage. I would like to know how we would store several GW-days worth of juice, which would be a necessity to smooth out 4-8GW of wind capacity and achieve 1-2GW of continuous, reliable power from wind. If you don’t want the lights to go out, then this is NOT AN OPTION. A viable grid must address this, i.e. match production to demand at all times. Or do you deny that it would be necessary to have that level of storage?

Please, enlighten me. I would love it to be possible for this to work.

Just saying “not accurate”, and with a wave of your hand dismissing the matter is not any way to be taken seriously.

James Greenidge
9 years ago

Re: “Ontario was on track to leading the world in proving you can run a modern jurisdiction on electricity that is admirably low in CO2. We could have charged toward world-beating climate change progress like an express train.”

But the real question is just much of the Canadian public is aware and informed of this? Would they be as duly outraged too? The nuclear community has long acted like the public is nuclear-educated by osmosis, without any serious public education ad and TV campaign — and I don’t mean caged up in cyberspace. One or two good video promo spots every year doesn’t cut it when the Greens are bombarding them with FUD each other day! The Greens/media have declared war to eliminate nuclear power and it’s up to the nuclear community’s sense of self-preservation(?) and public good to get in the fight three fists swinging!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

robert budd
9 years ago

Very good point James. Ontario’s nuclear community from perspective has been ineffective at defending itself. Not sure why but likely has much to do with the public ownership situation. Bruce Power has been much better at public relations.
For a good example of how bad nuclear can be, at defending itself go to the Canadian Nuclear Societies own site….

and look at its page on current generation in Ontario. For the last several weeks it has been showing IESO data that makes it look like wind is performing at almost 100% of capability all the time; totally misleading relative to all the other sources. I’ve asked them to correct it, they admit it’s wrong, but they say it’s due to the “new way” the IESO provides them the data.

Morgan Brown
9 years ago
Reply to  robert budd


I noted your criticism of the CNS web site (and received a copy of an e-mail you sent to the CNS). I just returned from 3 weeks away, and have just e-mailed the CNS webmaster (and others within the CNS) with data to revise the graphs for maximum wind capacity. We noted the problem with the graphs when it first arose with the IESO data, but our desire to make corrections slipped between the cracks.


Morgan Brown, P.Eng, FCNS
Previous CNS Webmaster

9 years ago

Bottom line, Premier Dolt has signed up committed contracts for at least 4 more GW of wind power, 4 GW of gas power for backup, and up to $8B for all the transmission builds to carry the carry the power. No money left for the nukes even at 8% the cost per kwh of wind/gas backup scam.

9 years ago

I’ve been sharing this satirical look at how it feels to be on the side of “nuclear energy.” http://www.nuclearfaq.ca/trilliums.htm

It’s hard for some of us to laugh when the reality is so tragic but this is good and I think would make sense to people on both sides.