Coal is (almost) gone and the lights are still on

Eliminating coal-fired electricity was supposed to either drive Ontario electricity prices through the roof or put the lights out altogether. At least that was what critics of Ontario’s groundbreaking coal phase out liked to claim. The reality is that the province reached an all-time low in 2009 for coal use, the lights have stayed on and electricity prices remain at the low end of the North American scale. Now, the Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA) is calling on the province to go all the way – to put its four remaining coal plants (including Nanticoke – the largest coal plant in North America) on “standby reserve” between now and the government’s official 2014 deadline for permanently ending coal use.

The OCAA is pointing out that Ontario’s coal-free generation capacity is now 23% higher than the province’s forecast peak day electricity demand for the summer of 2010. And according to Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator, the province will continue to have a comfortable coal-free power surplus between now and 2014 even as the economy rebounds thanks to efficiency and conservation efforts and new generation projects coming online, in part in response to Ontario’s groundbreaking Green Energy Act, which pays a premium for renewable power.

Under the OCAA’s plan, the dirty coal plants would only be run in an unlikely emergency situation where there was no other option (and would not be run simply to sell dirty power to New York or others neighbours). For Canadians used to seeing their federal government dodge, weave and deny in order to avoid taking any action on climate, Ontario’s steady effort to eliminate coal use is a real breath of fresh air – and a chance to come out of hiding for at least a few minutes at international climate meetings. You can find out more at

16 thoughts on “Coal is (almost) gone and the lights are still on

  1. Pingback: Ontario could phase out coal in 2010

  2. Angela

    In 2009 OPG got approximately 3.9 cents per kWh from the electricity spot market for the output of its coal plants. This includes both Ontario and U.S. consumers. I haven’t seen a break-out of this figure according to sales to Ontario and U.S. consumers respectively and I don’t think OPG would provide this break-out if we asked for it. However, you could try a Freedom of Information request.

    In addition, the $412 million subsidy that OPG got from the ON gov’t in 2009 works out to another 4.4 cents per kWh. So the total market and government subsidy revenue for the coal plants in 2009 was approximately 8.3 cents per kWh.

  3. Milan

    I would imagine that loss of revenue is the number one reason energy utilities would give for keeping coal plants operating in Ontario. We may not need the energy internally, but the profits from external sales are important for their overall balance sheets.

  4. Milan

    I was thinking of the perspective of the company running the coal plants. For them, selling power outside Ontario is a source of revenue that would diminish if they closed down these plants in 2010. I am not saying that society as a whole would not benefit from such a result, but that the companies would likely oppose it for that reason.

    As for the subsidies, presumably the governments providing them see some reason to do so – either on the basis of securing votes or of securing personal advantages like campaign contributions or other personal or financial benefits.

  5. Pingback: Some good climate news from Ontario

  6. Pingback: Phasing out coal-fired electricity in Canada

  7. .

    Council: Shut Down Coal Now!

    by Don McLean
    May 13 – 19, 2010

    City council is asking the provincial government to shut down coal-fired electricity plants in Ontario including the massive one in Nanticoke. If implemented, the move should improve Hamilton’s air quality, although the local steel mills remain one of the largest sources of pollutants in the Great Lakes.

    Councillors were told this week that a sharp drop in electricity demand along with rapidly expanding sustainable energy production means the McGuinty government can accomplish its planned coal phase–out four years early.

    Jack Gibbons of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance spoke to council’s committee of the whole in support of a motion introduced earlier by Sam Merulla. The Alliance is a coalition of approximately 90 organizations, including Hamilton and nine other municipalities, which was established in 1997.

    “Our coal–free capacity is now 23 per cent greater than our forecast peak demand for electricity this summer,” explained Gibbons. “Nevertheless much of our cleaner natural gas fired electricity generation capacity remains idle as Ontario Power Generation continues to operate its dirty coal plants.”

    He argued the coal phase–out will save a thousand lives and “prevent up to 480,000 asthma attacks”, as well as contribute significantly to the prevention of climate change.

  8. .

    Ontario to close four more coal-fired power units

    On Friday we’ll see four more coal-fired units totalling 2,000 megawatts closed in Ontario, part of the government’s commitment to phase out coal by 2014. Two 500 MW units at Lambton station and two 500 MW units at Nanticoke will be shut down ahead of an earlier schedule because of a combination of factors: lower electricity demand, increased natural gas capacity and a rise of wind, and to a lesser extent, solar power. Another plant, the smaller Atikokan station, will be converted to burning biomass.

  9. .

    Bright lights and clean air for Ontario
    Dalton McGuinty Premier of Ontario

    In 2003, Ontario’s electricity system was dangerously close to failure.

    How did this happen?

    Very simply, for years supply was going down while demand for electricity kept going up. During the previous eight years, as old equipment was shut down, Ontario lost 1,800 megawatts in generation. That’s the equivalent of Niagara Falls running dry.

    Also troubling, we doubled our use of coal to generate our electricity. That meant polluting our air and harming our health every time we turned on the lights. Back then, there was no plan for conservation. And we had become net importers of electricity — relying on even more dirty coal from the United States.

    Whose fault was it?

    There’s lots of blame to go around. Governments of every political stripe knew the system was deteriorating and did nothing. By 2003, brownouts were a constant threat. The previous government’s plan was to use emergency diesel generators — again, a stopgap, dirty air solution.

    The uncertainty of supply, and the absence of a long-term plan to rebuild, made our businesses nervous. International investors were also raising concerns.

    That’s why our government acted. We developed a plan to build a modern, clean, reliable electricity system that creates jobs and powers a stronger economy. And, today, our electricity system is stronger.

    Already, we’ve built enough new, cleaner generation to power 2 million Ontario homes. About a fifth of that comes from renewable sources like wind and solar. Today, 5,000 kilometres of transmission and distribution lines have been upgraded. And today, conservation programs are back and saving families money.

    Together, we’re on track to close Ontario’s dirty coal plants. We’ve shut down eight units so far and two more will close in 2011. By 2014, coal will be completely eliminated in Ontario. That’s like taking 7 million cars off the road — or almost every car in Ontario.

    We’re doing this because coal pollution is responsible for $3 billion in annual health-care costs, hospitalizations and respiratory illnesses, especially in our children. We’re avoiding those costs and protecting the health of Ontarians.

  10. .

    Dirty coal-fired electricity exports are costing us the air we breathe

    Ontario’s dirty coal-fired electricity generation rose by 29% last year according to the Independent Electricity System Operator.

    Ontario has more than sufficient coal-free generation capacity to shut down its dirty coal plants today, yet Ontario Power Generation (OPG) continues to operate its giant Nanticoke coal plant to export power to the United States.

    Exporting dirty coal power may be good for OPG’s bottom line, but it is not good for our health or our climate. According to Ontario Government calculations, OPG’s coal-fired electricity generation caused up to 158,000 asthma attacks last year. It also released harmful particulate matter, lead and mercury into our environment while pumping out thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases.

    Please send a letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty and ask him to tell OPG to stop exporting dirty coal-fired electricity to the U.S.

    Angela Bischoff, Outreach Director
    Ontario Clean Air Alliance
    402 – 625 Church St, Toronto M4Y 2G1
    Phone: 416-926-1907 ext. 246

  11. Jesse

    Milan asked: “How much revenue does Ontario get from selling coal-fired electricity to the United States?” To be honest, I wish they would stop selling coal power to the U.S. I want my country to get off of coal.

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