Ontario could be coal-free by 2010 with aggressive conservation: report
Ontario's energy mix could be virtually 100 per cent coal-free by next year, especially if the government boosted conservation by residents and acted boldly with its upcoming green energy act, suggests a new report.
As of December, Ontario had a maximum energy capacity of 33,045 megawatts, or 26,611 megawatts after subtracting the power generated from its coal plants.
By June 2010, the government hopes to have an additional 3,913 megawatts of coal-free power available for consumption. That would push its total capacity well beyond the record-high electricity demand of 27,005 megawatts set on Aug. 1, 2006.
The numbers suggest Ontario can phase out its use of coal-fired electricity well before its self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31, 2014, and the province should commit to using those dirty plants only in emergency situations, said Jack Gibbons, chairman of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, which released the report.
"We haven't called for a complete coal phase-out, but we're saying to only operate the coal when there's no other option to keep the lights on," Gibbons said.
"Ending coal use five years ahead of the government's official deadline would be the equivalent of taking an extra 2.3 million cars off the road each year between 2010 and 2014."
The Independent Electricity System Operator, which runs Ontario's electrical system, said it's not confident about accelerating the coal phase-out plan, and added that the new power coming online next year will be largely gas-fired and may not be 100 per cent reliable right away.
"With the amount of gas that's being introduced there are going to be some teething problems," said spokesman Terry Young.
He also said the province needs a sizable buffer of power for contingency purposes and there's no way to guarantee how much of the province's total capacity will be available at any given time.
He cited Ontario's wind power as being particularly unreliable for baseload power.
"First of all, those units don't always operate," Young said.
"And during the peak, wind availability is not that high. To take you back to the summer last year, the output of wind varied from as low as two megawatts one afternoon [in the summer] to over 700 during the winter."
Gibbons countered that there's still much potential for conservation and that the government should convince another one million homeowners to sign up for the Ontario Power Authority's "peaksaver" program, which automatically reduces energy consumption when demand gets too high.
He said that could cut demand by 1,000 megawatts, giving the province an even larger buffer.
Any additional measures in the province's green energy act — which Energy Minister George Smitherman has promised will be bold — would only make the goal more attainable, Gibbons said.
"We're counting on minister Smitherman to deliver a green energy act that will give a huge boost to energy efficiency and renewables," he said.