Mississauga Energy Town Hall Follow Up

Last week I attended an Energy Town Hall meeting hosted by George Smitherman and several senior executives from the OPA.  The Town Hall was organized to discuss the local impacts of Ontario’s Energy plan, specifically that they want to go to zero coal by 2014, and want to shut down the Nanticoke Generating Plant, the single biggest pollution source in Canada, and by some estimates, North America.  That it’s down wind from the most densely populated part of Canada makes shutting this thing down all the more admirable and important.

Nanticoke Power Station
Nanticoke Power Station – Original image source: http://www.opg.com/news/photos/nanticoke2.jpg

By itself, Nanticoke is just over 4 GW of load capacity going off line, with another 2 GW in coal powered plants also shutting down over the next few years.  So the Ontario government is getting serious about renewable energy, improved transmission, conservation and – unfortunately – gas powered plants.

As much as we’d love to say otherwise, they need to plan for a guaranteed supply that can match peak demand, and for now, that means nuclear, gas powered plants topped off with renewables.

So the main focus of the Town Hall Meeting was to provide an open forum for people to ask questions about the natural gas powered power plants that would be going up in or near their communities.  There were the usual NIMBY objections, but George Smitherman was successful in communicating the central message of the evening:

  • If you live in the GTA or surrounding region, then you live upwind from Nanticoke Power Station – the biggest source of air pollution in Canada, and possibly North America.  So pretty much, ANYTHING would be better than keeping Nanticoke running.
  • The gas powered plants are much cleaner.
  • The OPA and the Province of Ontario are really emphasizing conservation, renewables and improved transmission from the rest of Ontario, to keep the gas fired plants operating as little as possible.  (By some estimates, operating only 40% of the time or less.
  • In Ontario, every region over produces power except the densely populated region of Southern Ontario – without Nanticoke, local gas powered plants are the only way to keep the lights on.

McGuinty’s liberals came into power while I was living in Spain, and I’d never seen George Smitherman speak, so didn’t have an opinion about the guy.  After hearing him speak, hearing him gracefully answer so very aggressive questions (from the NIMBYs mostly) and hearing his arguments, I have to say, he came off as fair-minded, honest and genuinely focused on finding the best solution to Ontario’s energy problems.

There’s concern from people trying to develop solar farms under the Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program (RESOP), but I felt reassured that they really want to find a way to improve a program that presented unforeseen challenges almost immediately on launch.  The OPA announced some pending rule changes a while back, and Smitherman took personal responsibility for the delay in announcing the new rules – he was new to the energy portfolio and wanted to make sure he fully understood the issues before he signed off on the rules changes.  I have to say, I believe him and he seemed genuinely committed to providing answers.  (I have to say personally, I liked the guy, he’s the kind of politician I like to see running things.)

Here are some of the better slides of the night, and some comments:

Ontario Electrical Generation by Source
Ontario Electrical Generation by Source

As you can see, getting rid of the coal capacity will be a challenge, but new nuclear power is coming online, and renewables are a trivial portion of the total load generation right now.

Ontario Demand vs Capacity by Region
Ontario Demand vs Capacity by Region
Load Centres in Ontario - 2007
Load Centres in Ontario – 2007

GTA refers to the Greater Toronto Area, and the Golden Horseshoe refers to the densely populated part of Southern Ontario.  As you can see, the rest of Ontario is easily able to over-produce power, but the demand is centralized.  Shutting down Nanticoke really makes it hard to meet the GTA’s demand.  The subject of the evening wasn’t renewable energy, but it’s obvious renewables are going to play a large role.  The fact that Ontario’s best solar resource is in that little corridor between Toronto and Ottawa only helps us here at Morgan Solar.  If you’re curious, I’ve uploaded the slide photos to Flickr.

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