On May 6th last, the Ontario Government released a new policy for renewable energy. The new policy gives municipalities more control over the location of new large renewable energy projects. This change is a response to public criticism of the Government’s failure to consult with respect to the location of large gas-fired generating plants and placing of wind turbines. While the new policy is politically necessary, it is administratively cumbersome. By way of contrast, a recent Report of the Ontario Distribution Sector Review Panel recommended consolidating the province’s local distribution companies (your municipal hydro company), which will encourage the development of “smart grids” that efficiently deliver electricity at a lower cost.
The new policy cancelled the existing Feed-in-Tariff, a decision that one author criticized as “Two Steps Forward, One Back.” The policy did maintain a small Feed-in-Tariff program that gives priority to projects between 10 and 500 kW sponsored by municipalities. The Government expects that these projects will bring on stream 900 MW of new capacity.
Ontario Power Generation (OPG) operates five coal-fired electricity generating stations with a combined capacity of 5,447 megawatts (MW) that are being phased out in favour of renewable energy sources. OPG has confirmed that after these closures the Province will have a reliable supply of energy for the foreseeable future.
Still the wind doesn’t blow constantly, and often there are days without sun. So fossil fuel thermal stations will still be necessary as they can start and stop quickly to meet peaks in demand that wind and solar energy currently cannot manage.
OPG is considering the conversion of thermal stations to natural gas, as is happening in the U.S. Following conversion, these stations would generate lower levels of GHG emissions.
The example of Ontario in phasing out coal fired stations is one of the main reasons why Canada’s level of GHG emissions has dropped in recent years. Other provinces, such as Alberta, rely heavily upon coal fired stations, and will continue to do so well into the future. Do Albertans recognize that other Provinces are doing the heavy lifting necessary to meeting Canada’s Copenhagen targets for GHG emissions?
Canada needs a national policy on renewable energy to give credibility to an international effort by Canada to reverse the increasing utilisation of fossil fuels. In 2010 the then-Minister of Energy, Jim Prentice, had taken initial steps to formulate this policy with the cooperation of the Provinces. Nothing significant has been done since. The Ontario Government should press for national standards on renewable energy at the 2013 Council of Confederation Meeting (at which all Provinces and Territories are present) and again at the meeting of Energy Ministers this August, where the Federal Minister of Energy and Natural Resources will also attend.