Pressure is mounting on the Ford government to phase out Toronto's largest gas-fired plant, the Portlands Energy Centre (PEC).

Toronto City Council passed a motion in late June urging the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) and Toronto Hydro to develop a plan to phase out gas-fired generation at the plant by 2035 (except in emergencies) and ramp up renewables and efficiency.

But the provincial government is moving in the opposite direction. The province announced the expansion of the Portlands Energy Centre to increase its capacity generation by 50 MW, about a 10 per cent increase in capacity. The expansion plan by Atura Power, a subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation, aims to address the predicted energy shortage in Ontario due to increasing demand and nuclear refurbishments.

“This station, which the province is promoting over our objections, is bad for air quality in the city, it's bad for our climate objectives, and it's very bad for people who live in the area,” said Dianne Saxe, the city councillor who brought the motion forward. “This is another example of Doug Ford actively obstructing everything that the city and so many other people are doing to try to minimize climate damage and get ahead of the transition.”

Residents and advocates for renewable energy have long demanded a shift away from Portlands' gas-fired plant in favor of cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions in the city.

The Portlands plant supplies approximately 12 per cent of Toronto’s peak electricity demand, but according to Environmental Defence, plant is now Toronto's top emitter of greenhouse gases, with federal data showing emissions surged from 440,495 tonnes in 2012 to 613,275 tonnes in 2022.

Aside from phasing out gas generation and ramping up renewables, the city council motion calls for the development of distributed energy resources — like small-scale generation from wind, geothermal, or rooftop solar, combined with battery storage.

City councillor Dianne Saxe stated that the Portlands gas-fired plant promoted by the province harms air quality, climate objectives, and residents in the area. Photo submitted.

An advocacy group that has long opposed the expansion, The Toronto East Residents for Renewable Energy, proposes phasing out the plant even earlier — by 2030 — emphasizing the health risks associated with its emissions.

Residents and advocates for renewable energy have long demanded a shift away from Portlands' gas-fired plant in favor of cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions in the city. #Toronto's largest gas-fired plant #Portlands.

“The sooner the better,”the group wrote in an emailed response to Canada's National Observer. “What is invisibly coming out of the smokestacks of PEC is having long-term impacts on the health of area residents and those further downwind. The fine particulate matter that embeds in the lungs of people which especially impacts those with developing respiratory systems and those with respiratory ailments.”

In a letter to city council, the group expressed strong support for the recommendations in the motion to phase out the plant, and to rapidly increase local renewable energy generation and storage focus instead on energy efficiency and conservation.

Jack Gibbons, chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, a non-profit organization advocating for Ontario's renewable energy future, also supports the phase-out.

He said Toronto needs a net-zero electricity supply to achieve its goal of making Toronto net-zero by 2040.

“A net-zero electricity supply will reduce smog pollution and our greenhouse gas pollution that contributes to dangerous climate change,” he said.

Gibbons pointed out that phasing out the Portlands gas plant by 2035 is achievable, citing the successful phase-out of Ontario’s coal plants by 2014.

“They can easily be phased out during the next 11 years by investing in energy efficiency, demand response, solar, wind, and storage. For Toronto, we should aggressively pursue rooftop solar PV [photovoltaic] for our homes, buildings, and parking lots, plus Lake Ontario wind power,” he said.

A spokesperson for IESO, the electricity system operator, told Canada’s National Observer that with Toronto's electricity demand expected to nearly double by 2050, it is in “the early stages” of a process to examine the city’s electricity system options. For now, it’s conducting outreach sessions to evaluate the city's specific needs, including new transmission lines, local generation, and energy efficiency.

“To consider reducing reliance on the Portlands Energy Centre, it is critical that there are sufficient feasible alternatives to maintain the reliability of the system and to allow the city to continue to grow,” said Andrew Dow, spokesperson for IESO, in a statement.

“Across the province, the IESO is tapping into the potential for distributed energy resources to contribute to the reliability and affordability of our grid. This includes existing programs like Peak Perks, which has about 130,000 residents with smart thermostats participating.”

Dow said moving forward, these resources will play a pivotal role in various IESO procurements and programs aimed at meeting Ontario’s growing electricity demands.

“There are currently many actions underway or planned to develop more non-emitting supply across the province, including expanded energy efficiency programming, new nuclear, a trade agreement with Quebec, the largest energy storage procurement ever in Canada, and a procurement for resources like wind and solar.”

Earlier this year, the Ford government announced its collaboration with the city on a new Integrated Regional Resource Plan for Toronto, aiming to build energy infrastructure to support the city's growing demand, including new homes, businesses, transit, and electrification.

Keep reading

Dougie please listen to Councillor Diane Saxe (whose office as Environmental Commissioner you summarily axed out of existence as newly elected Premier) and all the advocates and experts who are telling you - gas plants are highly polluting. Why must you go on living in the past with your fossil fuel plans for Ontario?

The issue is, Doug "The Thug" Ford listens to no one but his corrupt donors want. Doug's only mandate appears to be is to filling the pork barrels of corrupt developer donors, secret deals and enrich himself in the process. The only thing that can change his mind, is when the public and media outcry and put a lot of pressure on him to change his mind. What is disturbing however, is the lack of outrage or concern the opposition parties express over questionable moves by Doug. Because Doug erodes environmental laws, passes laws to protect him from questionable things he does, it is pretty clear he doesn't care about the environment.

I keep waiting for the renewable energy lobby to get big enough to buy their own corruption . . .
Unfortunately that will be later than you'd expect because there aren't a lot of windfall profits in the renewables biz.

Profits over people. That one's true.

"For the people"? That one's beyond a lie.

Fire Ford. Fire him now. And if at all possible, charge him.

My beautiful province, the one I've lived in and worked throughout, will be completely unrecognizable by the time he's done.

And there is apparently NOTHING we can do to stop his offences and crimes.

We MUST have legislative change in the next government, that gives us the appropriate power to block such vile actions.