My Clean Break column today reveals some good news for air quality in Ontario, and points out that 2014 is shaping up to be an important milestone for the province — in more than one way. Of course, we all know that the plan in Ontario is to stop burning coal for electricity generation by 2014, and we’re well on our way to achieving that target. We’ll get there through a combination of measures: putting more renewables on the grid, shifting some generation to natural gas, importing more hydro from Quebec, and raising the bar on energy conservation. On that last note, we could see some major reductions from industry if a new program being run by the Ontario Power Authority delivers the goods. Under the Industrial Accelerator program, the province will pay an industrial energy users (the big ones, connected directly to the transmission system) up to 70 per cent of the cost of retrofits that achieve big energy efficiency gains, up to a cap of $10 million per project. So far the agency has received 40 applications to participate in the program, and 200 projects in total have been identified. The goal is to eliminate the equivalent of 300 megawatts of electricity demand (and generating capacity) from the grid by the end of 2014 and, in the process, make Ontario industry more competitive.
Now, this bodes well for air quality in Ontario, but keeping in mind that on average 55 per cent of air pollution comes into southern Ontario from the United States, we heard more good news earlier this month when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized its Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which goes into effect in 2014. That, in combination with other EPA initiatives, is expected to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by 73 per cent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 54 per cent compared to 2005 levels. The rule, according to the EPA, “requires 27 states to significantly improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions that cross state lines and contribute to ozone and fine particle pollution in other states.” As EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said, “No community should have to bear the burden of another community’s polluters, or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses.”
Now, this wasn’t designed to protect Canadian provinces from smog-causing pollutants — it is meant to protect high-polluting states from less-polluting states — but the fact that Ontario is surrounded on its southern border by some of America’s biggest coal-using power plants, we can expect to benefit tremendously from this rule — assuming it doesn’t get derailed by legal challenges and continuing GOP insanity. I’m surprised, in fact, this didn’t get more coverage by mainstream Canadian media.