Ontario Will Be First North American Jurisdiction To Eliminate Coal Power

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Looks like a northern front has been opened up in the so-called “War on Coal.”

Canada’s Ontario province will burn virtually zero coal by the end of 2013, marking the first time a North American government has shut down an entire coal fleet, and proving a powerful point that ending coal use can save money and lives.

Ontario government buildings
Ontario government buildings image via Shutterstock

The provincial government announced last week that it would close its final two baseload coal-fired power plants a year ahead of schedule, leaving just 1% of total electrical capacity to be generated by coal. The province’s last remaining coal generator, a small backup unit, will be closed in 2014. “Today, all Ontarians can breathe a little easier,” said Premier Dalton McGuinty.

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Massive Health And Environmental Benefits

Ontario’s early coal closures are expected to reduce emissions equivalent to taking seven million cars off the road and save approximately $4.4 billion in annual health and environmental external costs, according to Ontario’s Energy Minister. “Very soon, coal will disappear from our energy mix and we’re not going to miss it,” said Chris Bentley. 

The final coal plant closures are the last step in Ontario’s Green Energy Act, announced in 2003. That year coal represented 25% of all electricity generation across 19 power plants and Nanticoke Generating Station, one of the two now-closed power plants, was running at a peak capacity of 4,000MW – making it one of the largest coal plants in the world. Already, sulphur dioxide emissions are 93% lower and nitrogen oxide emissions are 85% lower than they were in 2003. 

Renewables + Energy Efficiency = No Need For Coal

Several dynamics like increased natural gas generation and Ontario owning its coal plants have helped the initiative, but an aggressive 2009 renewables and energy efficiency law made it possible. 

A feed-in tariff has helped boost wind from 400 megawatts (MW) in 2007 to 2,000MW today, and wind is growing across the country, expected to generate 10% of all provincial electricity supply by 2030. 

Ontario clean energy mix
Ontario electricity generation mix image via Ontario Ministry of Energy

In addition, energy efficiency efforts have created 1,900MW of consumer energy savings since 2005, equivalent to taking 600,000 average homes off the grid.

And Don’t Forget A Stronger Economy

While the environmental benefits are clear, ending coal-fired electricity has created benefits across Ontario’s entire economy.This overall shift toward clean energy has become an economic engine, creating 28,000 green jobs since 2009 – a number expected to eventually hit 50,000 total jobs.

Early closures of the final two coal power plants will save the province’s utility ratepayers $95 million in costs, and 4.7 million smart meters have been installed as part of the efficiency effort, creating access to time-of-use electricity pricing and allowing consumers to shift their energy demand to take advantage of off-peak power prices.  

A Model For Canada And The World

Ontario is Canada’s most populous province, the center of the country’s national economy, and proof an economy can reliably grow without coal. Since the coal-free initiative began, Ontario has increased its electricity capacity 20% with 8,000MW of new clean energy supply, while reducing electricity bills 10% 

Going coal free sets an example for other governments to follow in their drive to improve the environment and economy. Indeed, “Ontario is showing the country – and the world – what a genuine commitment to cleaner energy can accomplish,” said Tim Weis of the Pembina Institute.

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