A 12-step plan to wean Ontario from nuclear

The Ontario Clean Air Alliance, as part of public comment regarding the proposed 20-year energy mix in Ontario, issued a statement today offering a dozen steps that could be taken to wean Canada’s largest province from its growing dependence on nuclear power. The alliance disagrees with a report released in December by the Ontario Power Authority suggesting the province keep nuclear at 50 per cent of the power mix over the next 20 years. This, of course, would mean more than $40 billion dedicated to new nuclear builds.

“A careful review of the OPA’s conclusions reveals that it is counting on nuclear plants being built on budget and operating flawlessly once they are in operation — two things that have never happened in Ontario,” said alliance chairman Jack Gibbons.

Among its recommendations to government:

* Reward consumers that shift their energy use to off-peak hours when the province has smog-day alerts.

* Get Hydro One, the province’s largest electric utility, to start renting hybrid solar-electric water heaters and geothermal heat pumps as part of new pilot projects. By the end of 2007, the objective would be to rent 5,000 solar-electric water heaters and 500 geothermal heat pump systems.

* Direct the major gas distribution companies to establish programs that will switch households from electric to gas heating/cooking. The goal would be to reduce the electrical load by 1,500 megawatts somewhere between 2006 and 2010.

* The province, through the OPA, should procure at least 1,200 megawatts of “made-in-Ontario” renewable electricity supply each year for the next five years, and over the same period procure 1,000 megawatts each year of combined heat/power electricity generation — i.e. combined heat/power natural gas plants or something along those lines.

* Develop 500 megawatts of combined heat/power supply in downtown Toronto, with the heat portion being strategically used for new waterfront development and other development projects.

* Increase water power imports from Manitoba, Quebec and Labrador.

* Increase hydro rates to reflect true cost while protecting low-income households and helping industry remain competitive.

The alliance raised a few other interesting points. It said the OPA over-estimated the rate of electricity growth expected between 2005 and 2025 in the province. It wouldn’t be the first time — same thing happened during the 1970s, resulting in some major projects being mothballed at taxpayers’ expense.

At the same time, it said the OPA under-estimated the potential of renewable energy — including wind and biomass — and didn’t take into account the benefits of combined heat-power plants. Finally, it argues the OPA under-estimated the huge economic costs and risks of going down the nuclear path, perhaps naively believing that the overruns that happened in the past won’t happen again.

I think everything the Ontario Clean Air Alliance is recommending should be aggressively pursued by the province, and I agree with its assessment that the numbers are being torqued a bit to weigh in the favour of nuclear technology without giving proper respect to renewables and conservation.

When the OPA report first came out, my opinion was that — like it or not — we had to stick with nuclear if we were going to phase out coal. I do still believe nuclear must play a role over the next 20 years, but it doesn’t need to be 50 per cent of the mix and I don’t believe anymore that it will require new builds like those being suggested by the OPA. Wind and solar have their limitations, I agree, but the OPA didn’t fully explore the potential of clean coal (integrated gasification combined cycle), energy-from-waste (natural-gas assisted) and the use of utility-scale energy storage technologies for use in transmission bottlenecks and intermittent renewables.

Why does the OPA reserved this nice, round $40 billion figure just for nuclear? If the province truly wants to diversify its energy-mix portfolio, some of that money could just as easily go toward a solar PV/heating program, such as the one passed recently in California, but encompassing geothermal as well. To offset future demand increases, why not mandate a certain percentage of geothermal/solar heating systems for newly built subdivisions? Geothermal is particularly attractive, as it can be used for cooling as well — we all know air conditioners are the source of peak power demand during the summer.

Why not build a clean coal plant, to at the very least test and validate the technology? Why are the risks of going nuclear — likely untested next-generation nuclear technology — any lower than testing out the kind of clean-coal and energy-from-waste approaches being used or given the go-ahead south of the border?

More, much more, can be done with a little effort and creativity. Writing a monster cheque to a single industry is an effort in laziness.

If you want a different viewpoint, check out this statement from Dr. Patrick Moore, an environmentalist consultant who founded Greenpeace. He probably falls somewhere between my opinion and the OPA’s plan, but seems a little pissed at the Clean Air Alliance for dissing nuclear outright.

Electricity breakdown for Ontario

If you’re curious to know how we’re consuming electricity in Ontario, the Independent Electricity System Operator put out some figures today for 2005. In a nutshell: As a percentage of total electricity consumption, hydro power dropped to 22 per cent from 25 per cent a year earlier because of drought-like conditions in some regions of Ontario last summer. Nuclear stands at 51 per cent, coal rose slightly to 19 per cent, and everything else — oil, natural gas and renewables — remained constant at 8 per cent.

Air conditions contributed to a nearly 2 per cent increase in province-wide electricity consumption in 2005, while we saw a 30 per cent jump in the reliance of imported power because of insufficient domestic capacity.

Let’s hope we see the “everything else” portion, excluding oil and natural gas, rise significantly higher over the next year or two.

Ford gets creative with clean car design

Ford Motor Co. revealed details today of advancements it has made to its Escape Hybrid. A research version of the vehicle has been designed to operate on gasoline containing a blend of up to 85 per cent ethanol. It makes complete sense, of course. Why not use the best that hybrid technology has to offer while at the same time reducing emissions on the internal combustion side?

Ford unveiled the design at the Washington Auto Show today. “Ethanol-fuelled hybrids could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” the company said in a statement. “Ford Escape Hybrid, already the world’s cleanest and most fuel-efficient small SUV, would produce about 25 per cent less carbon dioxide if operated exclusively on renewable E85 ethanol fuel instead of carbon-rich gasoline.”

What Ford is acknowledging is that there is no silver bullet to auto design, and that it may take more than one approach to create the most efficient car with the lowest emissions. Imagine a plug-in flex-fuel-hybrid Toyota Prius running on a blend of 85 per cent cellulose ethanol? There’s no reason it can’t be done today…

(NOTE: Should point out that demand for plug-in hybrids is gaining momentum in the United States, with a growing number of U.S. cities demanding that the major automakers seriously consider the design.)

Note to self: solar only works when the sun shines

I’m a big fan of solar PV technologies, but not blinded to its limitation. This story from the Buffalo News points out something that everyone — homeowners, businesses, government bureaucrats — need to consider as they try to “greenify” their operations. Officials in Cheektowaga are a little furious to learn that after 13 sunless days in a row the solar-powered street lights they installed didn’t work. The company that installed them — Johnson Controls — did disclose that the system can only go 2 days without sun before the battery packs with the lights drain. Who knew that December/January could be so dreary and overcast? Duh!

I guess it pays to think these kinds of things through.

SDTC issues 9th call for cleantech funding

Canadian cleantech companies have until March 15 to apply for project funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada, which issued its 9th call for funding today. For the first time SDTC is including technologies that help clean up water and soil.

“Prospective clean water technologies will look to optimize Canada’s water and waste-water infrastructure, improve water conservation, update existing diagnostic tools and methods, and address public concern over drinking water safety. Soil-improvement technologies will aim to prevent, treat or contain the contamination of soil, improve water retention, crop yield and vegetation cover, and support brownfield redevelopment to enhance land value and use. Solutions that mitigate environmental impacts such as soil remediation, or that remove pollution and generate value such as brownfield redevelopment, will also be considered.”

Since April 2002 SDTC has allocated $169 million to 75 clean technology projects, an amount that has been matched with $446 million from project consortia members, mostly from the private sector.

SDTC has $550 million in its investment fund. Vicky Sharpe, president and CEO, told me last week that the organization’s mandate lasts until 2015 but most of the money will be allocated by 2010. Between now and then projects that began receiving funding in 2002 will gradually be completed and reviewed. “We’ve had seven in 2005 that have been completed or are in the final throws of putting out their report,” she said, pointing out that Carmanah Technologies and DynaMotive Energy Systems investments are examples so far of projects that have been completed and are now producing commercial sales.