Windsor-Essex greenhouses will need more power than currently available

The power grid in Ontario won't be able to supply the demand from a growing greenhouse sector in Windsor-Essex, according to a report.

Hydro One put in a new transformer station in Leamington last year to help with demand

Greenhouses are a familiar sight in Windsor-Essex, where the sector is growing. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

The growing greenhouse sector in Windsor-Essex is demanding lots of power, which is expected to exceed the capacity of the current transmission system, according to a report by the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO).

The Reliability Outlook, an assessment of the provincial electricity system from January 2019 to December 2023, takes a look at Ontario's demand forecast.

"A solution is required as soon as possible," the report reads.

In December, the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG) attended a meeting about the increasing demand for power.

The meeting was held by the Kingsville-Leamington Local Advisory Committee (LAC), a group consisting of representatives at the municipal level and from the agricultural community, Union Gas and other stakeholders.

According to a presentation at the meeting, most of the load growth is due to greenhouses, with around 80 per cent being vegetable growers and the rest used for cannabis growing.

Hydro One upgrades

The power problem has delayed expansion plans for some growers in the past, but Justine Taylor from OGVG said the organization is now working well with IESO to communicate the growers' needs.

"One of the upgrades went in service just this past fall, and there are a series of upgrades planned over the next couple of years to make sure most of the short to mid-term demand is met," said Taylor.

Justine Taylor from Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers says her group is working to communicate producers' power needs to Ontario's power system operator. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The upgrade she mentioned is a new Hydro One transformer station and transmission line in Leamington, which was finished in 2018, according to a spokesperson from the Ministry of Energy.

In an email to CBC News, the spokesperson said the upgrade is able to meet some of the region's demand.

"The IESO is aware of the continued growth in this region and is working to identify and address further electricity needs through regional electricity planning," the email reads.

In the meantime, a short to mid-term solution for growers is combining heat and power solutions for on-site generation, according to Taylor.

The greenhouse would be able to use heat, electricity and carbon dioxide produced within the facility, she said, which "pairs well with greenhouse production."

One drawback, however, is that "it's a big upfront investment."

Some greenhouses in Kingsville and Leamington emit a glow in the sky because of the lights they use at night. (Submitted by Rosemary Tako)

Other options presented at the LAC meeting include some conservation programs that can help growers be more energy efficient.

Some examples include the Save on Energy program for energy upgrades and AgriPump Rebate Program, both offered through Hydro One.

The next LAC meeting will be in February.

With files from Chris Ensing