Ontario searching for new electricity generation as demand rises and nuclear plant is set to be retired
Demand from growth in electric vehicles and electrifying public transportation is expected to rise much more quickly starting in about 2035.
Ontario’s electricity system is searching for more power producers as demand rises and a major nuclear plant nears retirement, a process likely to secure more natural gas generation while the government seeks to end reliance on it.
It means that for at least the next two decades, greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector are set to increase.
But the electricity system operator says Ontario is already using hydro to its max, while solar and wind power rely on the weather, and natural gas generation can provide the reliability and flexibility needed to support green initiatives and an ensuing increase in electricity demand, such as from electric vehicles and electric arc furnaces in steelmaking.
By about 2038, the Independent Electricity System Operator projects the net greenhouse gas emission reductions from electric vehicles will offset electricity sector emissions.
While the IESO has acknowledged that more gas generation will be needed in the near term, Energy Minister Todd Smith has asked itto explore a moratorium on new gas plants.
“We want to get to net zero in the electricity grid,” Smith said in an interview.
But he noted that an IESO report last year examining whether natural gas generation could be phased out by 2030 found that it would lead to rotating blackouts and higher electricity bills.
“We have to ensure that we have a reliable system and one that’s affordable, and if we have an affordable electricity system, then we’re going to see electrification happen in other areas to reduce emissions,” he said.
Interim NDP leader Peter Tabuns, also the party’s energy critic, said it’s hard to reconcile the pursuit of more gas generation at the same time as exploring a moratorium.
“They’re stepping on the gas and hitting the brake at the same time,” he said.
“I would say that their interest in getting more proposals for gas plants is probably far more an indicator of where they’re going than any words about ‘Tell us what we can do about reducing gas burning in the future.'”
Renewable energy in Ontario comes with a fair amount of political baggage. Electricity prices became a major source of anger ahead of the 2018 election that saw the Liberals reduced from a majority government to losing official party status.
The Pickering Nuclear Generating Station — which accounted for 14 per cent of electricity generation last year — is set to start a phased shutdown in 2024.
The IESO projects a growing supply gap of electricity, as broader electrification takes off, particularly in the transportation sector.
Demand from growth in electric vehicles and electrifying public transportation is expected to rise much more quickly starting in about 2035. Around then, the projected gap between needed and available electricity is expected to hit 5,000 megawatts — enough to power five million homes — during the summer, even if all current power producers renew their contracts.