It’s easy to look at Canada’s climate change inaction and point a finger at Alberta. After all, from 2005 to 2019, Alberta increased its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by almost 20 per cent while we as a country were supposed to be decreasing. And in 2019, Alberta made up almost 40 per cent of our national emissions even though it has only 12 per cent of the population and 15 per cent of the GDP. Alberta has claimed carbon sequestering could be used to solve its emissions problem since at least 2010, with no real results. Yes, it’s very easy to portray them as the only problem Canada has in meeting our GHG targets.
But there is another provincial player who is also a big emitter. Ontario made up 22 per cent of our national emissions in 2019 and according to the province’s auditor general, has no plan to improve by 2030. They’ve issued an update since with hand-waving categories like “innovation” and “natural gas conservation” but with no hard plans. In fact, the only real plan announced so far will serve to make Ontario’s electrical grid dirtier.
Ontario has a totally different set of problems to solve if it is to do its part to reduce national emissions. Unlike Alberta, Ontario’s emissions problems can’t be fixed by sequestering carbon from large bitumen producers or reducing fugitive methane gas. Those are expensive solutions but stand to have big impacts. In Ontario, it’s all about electrification — electrification of vehicles, of building heating, of large industrial processes like steel furnaces.
Oh, you say, Ontario is working hard at that, handing billions to Dofasco and Algoma steel makers to convert their processes from burning coal to using electricity and natural gas. And you’d be right on that. The drive is to make green-labelled steel for export. And they’ll label it green based on Ontario’s electricity supply mix, which today is 94 per cent non-emitting.
But as new loads are added — such as steel plants, electric vehicles, or heat pumps — that mix of electricity must change. New layers of electrical generating capacity will have to be added to handle increased demand. And gone are the days the province was encouraging the growth in generating capacity through renewables. Instead, Doug Ford’s stated non-emitting solutions are to grow nuclear and hydro, but those take a long time if they ever happen at all. In reality, the electrification of Ontario’s emitters is going to be driven by natural gas-generated electricity.
And that is problematic. Instead of zero emissions, natural gas-generated electricity has about 50 per cent of the emissions of a coal-fired plant, nowhere near zero. Under this scenario, adding new loads to the grid will increase emissions from electrical generation. This will move Ontario away from its green power mix and closer to the bad old coal-burning days.
What does this all mean? For starters, if you decide to buy a battery electric vehicle (BEV) and you think you’ve gone from a greenhouse gas-emitting, world-destroying vehicle to something with a pristine tailpipe, you will not be as green as you think in Ontario. Because in Ontario, anything that adds load will add a high-emitting natural gas layer of electrical generation.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has looked at the various ways of generating electricity and developed a table of equivalent GHGs in miles per U.S. gallon (MPG) for BEVs, modelled as though emissions arising from the generation of electricity being used were coming out of the BEV tailpipe.
Natural gas-fired electricity-powered BEVs, they calculate, have equivalent GHGs to a 58 MPG gasoline vehicle or four litres per 100 kilometres. This is what you might see in a gasoline-powered car like a Toyota Prius. So, if you already drive something like a Toyota Prius and are thinking of switching to a new BEV, there is no point in switching if the electricity in your province is generated by natural gas.
Don't just point climate fingers at Alberta. Ontario made up 22 per cent of #Canada's national emissions in 2019 and has no plan to improve by 2030. @rossbelot writes for @NatObserver #GHG #CleanEnergy #onpoli #abpoli
If you drive something like a Subaru Outback, you will cut your emissions by 50 per cent by switching to a BEV but you will still have significant emissions per mile when you drive in Ontario. You essentially have the emissions of a Prius, an improvement but not anywhere near zero.
Only in provinces like Quebec or B.C., where the electricity is generated almost entirely by hydro, can you eliminate emissions by driving a BEV.
Here’s the fundamental truth: Ontario is doing nothing to improve the grid and is backing away from a green future. The renewables program is gone. A nuclear station that generates 14 per cent of Ontario’s current capacity is shutting down because it’s 50 years old. There are plans to build a much smaller nuclear reactor but it doesn’t come anywhere near replacing Pickering. The province is also looking at more hydro but it isn’t going to be fast or easy or large enough. All roads are leading back to natural gas for generation, which means your BEV and Dofasco’s new steel furnace will be far from emissions-free.
If you want to point fingers at the Canadian climate laggard, look to Ontario. Ontario loves that Alberta is the environmentalist punching bag. It takes the heat off Ontario for giving money to battery plants for American buyers of BEVs while having no plan to improve the province’s own GHG emissions. Ford is the guy who loves to celebrate electric car manufacturing investment. But he’s the same guy who ripped out the charging stations at GO Train stations as one of his first acts as premier. That tells you everything you need to know.