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.