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The Ontario government must phase out its fleet of natural gas-fired power plants by 2030 to have a hope of meeting its climate goals, a coalition of 29 groups says.
Led by the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, the list includes the David Suzuki Foundation, the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Leadnow, and 350.org.
If the government doesn’t shift away from its plans to rely on natural gas more in the coming years, the province risks erasing some of the gains made by phasing out coal, said Ontario Clean Air Alliance chair Jack Gibbons.
“It’s essential for Ontario to move forward and meet its 2030 climate targets and not go backwards,” Gibbons said.
“We believe this proposal is a no-brainer.”
The coalition’s call to action also comes with a few more asks: for Premier Doug Ford to reverse cuts to energy efficiency programs, put more funding towards developing low-cost renewable resources, accept an offer of cheap hydroelectricity from Quebec and cap emissions from existing natural gas plants until they can be phased out.
The coalition’s call was backed by Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner on Thursday, who called for the NDP and Liberals to add their support as well.
“For two years, (Premier) Doug Ford has doubled down on costly, climate-wrecking fossil fuel projects while ripping up clean energy projects,” Schreiner said in a statement.
“We can build back better from COVID-19 with healthy, affordable electricity while refocusing on the climate crisis.”
The office of Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca declined to comment.
Ontario NDP climate critic Peter Tabuns said his party backs the call to action.
The Ontario government must phase out its fleet of natural gas-fired power plants by 2030 to have a hope of meeting its climate goals, a coalition of 29 groups say. The call has been backed by the Ontario NDP and Green parties. #onpoli
“We know there is no future for gas-fired plants in Ontario,” Tabuns said. “We aren’t going to be able to make our climate targets with them.”
Most of Ontario’s energy comes from hydro and nuclear power. In 2019, natural gas made up 9.5 per cent of the province’s total power generation, the government said.
But the Ford government is planning to rely on natural gas more heavily in the years ahead to make up for nuclear plants going offline for refurbishment, and for the premier’s cuts to green energy programs. That means greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation in Ontario are set to nearly triple over the next decade, the Independent Electricity Systems Operator (IESO), which operates Ontario’s energy market, said in January.
In May, provincially owned Ontario Power Generation spent $2.8 billion to buy three natural gas plants.
Alex Puddifant, a spokesperson for Energy Minister Greg Rickford, didn’t directly address the criticism from the coalition, but said in an emailed statement that natural gas is more reliable than renewable energy or imported power.
“In comparison to alternative choices (e.g., renewables, imports), natural gas generation provides the needed flexibility to respond to changing conditions in the power system,” Puddifant said.
Tabuns said the government should instead focus on supporting workers in the natural gas industry so they are able to find other jobs when the plants are inevitably phased out. It doesn’t make sense to use such an emissions-heavy power source in the midst of a climate crisis, he added.
“If we’re actually going to be politically successful bringing people on board in Ontario to a green economy, they're going to have to know that they’re not going to be abandoned,” he said.
Ontario could help the world meet its climate targets, Tabuns said. Such changes could also benefit public health, as switching to lower-emissions energy sources decreases pollution that can cause health problems.
But if the province doesn’t change course, he said, “it would be disastrous.”
“We see a just transition for gas power plant workers and a phaseout of gas-fired power in Ontario as what we have to do to meet our climate targets.”