Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith gave a thumbs-up on Friday to expanding natural gas for electricity generation to keep up with the province’s future energy needs.
The announcement – in line with recommendations made by the Independent Energy System Operator (IESO), which manages Ontario’s electricity grid – means up to 1,500 MW of new electricity generation will come from natural gas.
“This new [electricity] generation will support us in the short term as we continue to transition to a 100 per cent clean system,” Smith said in a statement emailed to Canada’s National Observer. “Nuclear refurbishment and more clean generation will get us there, but in the interim, we will not accept rotating blackouts or significant bill increases that would discourage new investment and drive away manufacturing jobs.”
In a report released Friday, the IESO outlined its recommendations for addressing Ontario’s energy needs, which include acquiring 4,000 megawatts (MW) of new electricity generation. Without new natural gas projects, the report reasons, “the IESO would be reliant on emergency actions such as conservation appeals and rotating blackouts to stabilize the grid.”
Ontario’s electricity grid is one of Canada’s cleanest, with 94 per cent zero-emission power generation, but emissions are expected to rise 375 per cent as the province turns to natural gas. It’s a step backward, and will undo a third of emission reductions the province has achieved from phasing out coal-fired power generation.
The IESO expects electricity generated from natural gas will be replaced over time by new emissions-free generation, storage, and demand and transmission solutions.
However, not everybody agrees this is the right move.
In a Sept. 19 meeting with the Global Compact Board, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said recent climate disasters and skyrocketing fuel prices should make it obvious that we need to “end our global addiction to fossil fuels” and “jumpstart the renewables revolution.”
He also highlighted the economic benefits of investing in renewables.
#Ontario doubles down on gas-fired electricity generation. #onpoli
“Upfront costs for solar and wind power account for 80 per cent of lifetime costs – meaning big investments today will reap even bigger rewards tomorrow,” he said.
Last year, the Paris-based International Energy Agency released a report stating immediate action is needed to reshape the world’s energy sector to meet 2050 climate goals.
The report outlines 400 steps to transform how energy is produced, transported and used, which included not investing in new fossil fuels supply projects and a four-fold increase in deploying solar and wind power by 2030.
“It’s climate lunacy [to build new gas plants], given we’re facing a climate crisis and we need to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas pollution,” says Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA) chair Jack Gibbons.
There are cheaper, less environmentally damaging solutions than ramping up and investing further in natural gas, he says.
Research recently commissioned by the IESO actually proves this, Gibbons says.
A study, prepared for the IESO by Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors found distributed energy resources (DERs), often smaller scale electricity producers tied into the grid, could support Ontario’s emerging 2023-2032 energy needs.
They looked at this 10-year time frame through the lens of three different projections — Business as Usual (BAU), BAU+, and Accelerated. The BAU trajectory reflects today’s market and tech trends, the BAU+ trajectory expands electrification, decarbonization, market and tech advances, and the Accelerated trajectory reflects an accelerated effort to achieve net-zero with a greater reliance and integration of DERs to meet system needs.
“In all scenarios, the total economic potential for DERs exceeds Ontario’s forecasted summer and winter incremental capacity needs over the study’s 10-year time horizon,” the report found.
The most cost effective and achievable DERs to meet Ontario’s needs were found to be demand response programs and products designed to encourage or trigger less electricity use, solar energy, battery storage, electrical vehicle smart charging, and vehicle-to-grid technology that allows an electric car’s battery to power the grid.
Dunsky recommends the IESO target its efforts on these high-value, high-potential DER measures, while simultaneously reducing red tape and increasing funding and compensation for these projects.
In the best-case scenario, the report found an Accelerated adoption of all these measures would produce $290.6 billion in benefits.
Gibbons said given the findings of the Dunsky report, it makes no sense that the IESO recommended the Ontario government increase its use of natural gas.
“There’s no need for new gas-fired power plants because the Dunsky report shows that by investing in demand management, solar energy and batteries, we can meet all of our needs for a new electricity supply and lower our electricity costs by billions of dollars,” says Gibbons.
The Ontario Clean Air Alliance is planning to ask federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault to issue a clean electricity standard prohibiting the building of new gas plants in Ontario that will require the province to move to a zero-carbon electricity grid by 2030.
The IESO’s Oct. 7 report will be followed by another report later this year assessing potential pathways to decarbonize the grid.
The IESO did not respond to requests from Canada’s National Observer in time for publication.
— With files from Jessica McDiarmid and Frank Jordans