Air Quality Ontario government buildings

Published on January 15th, 2013 | by Silvio Marcacci


Ontario Will Be First North American Jurisdiction To Eliminate Coal Power

January 15th, 2013 by  

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.

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.

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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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.

  • Ronald Brak

    Here in South Australia our increasing wind and solar capacity has allowed us to shut down one of our coal plants and switch the other to seasonal load following so it only runs for six months of the year. Due to the cost of wind and solar and their effect on electricity prices, what I pay for electricity has decreased by 8.1%. So cutting coal use has economically benefited the state and that’s not even including the health benefits of greatly reducing coal use.

  • The smartest part of this article is the photo at the top with the caption “Ontario government buildings”. The image is of one of the federal parliament buildings.

    The stuff in this article about how closing these coal units is economically beneficial suggest that Mr. Marcacci should stick to architectural photography.

    • Scott

      Tom, surely you jest. We get a lot of comments on this website from pro-coal people, who I can only imagine have some economic incentive to be disparaging the growing and undeniable truth that we’re all seeing: coal is environmentally hazardous, bad for our health, and, increasingly, unnecessary.

    • silviomarcacci

      Thanks for clarifying the photo caption mistake. Good thing that doesn’t take away from the fact that Ontario has ended its use of the worst fuel source known to man. A quick review of your Twitter account and website show a decidedly pro-fossil leaning – but I’m sure that has nothing to do with your nitpicking.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Tom, perhaps you aren’t aware how much we pay in tax dollars and health insurance premiums (only tax dollars in Canada) to treat the health problems caused by burning coal.

      Give this a read…

      The Epstein paper is on line if you wish to read the entire piece of research.

  • xboxman

    now if Ky would do the same

  • mk1313

    Silvio, if only it were so. Living here I can tell you that some of the glowing comments on “growing economy” are way off base. The jobs are under threat from a near certain defeat of the liberals and their probable replacement by the Conservatives who have promised to do away with most if not all incentives for renewable energy. The smart meters have been a bane for the consumer resulting in far higher costs without the support for technologies to take advantage of time of use prices. An example is heating. It gets real cold for a long time up here yet Ontario Hydro and the McSquinty gov’t (deliberate mis-spelling!) has done nothing to help homeowners implement something like electric/thermal storage. A few local providers such as Sudbury Hydro have but they are the exception. The implementation of the FIT and microFit programs were highly flawed where line capacity and generating contracts were bought up/awarded to international conglomerations rather than being awarded to local people who pay for those distribution lines. You might want to investigate the whole picture before giving such a glowing report on using the Ontario way of doing things as a model. It is BADLY flawed!

    • Ben

      MK, can’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. Don’t poo-poo this. It’s a very significant step in the right direction.

      • mk1313

        Ben, when it is big business that profits and the regular joe gets it up the wazoo for really simple easily forseens stuff like this it is bad, not good!

        • Bob_Wallace

          Big coal business is getting it up the wazoo.

          Regular Joes in Ontario will be getting a healthier environment and new jobs will be created in clean energy generation. Overall all the Joes will be paying less for electricity since they won’t have to pay for the health costs generated by burning coal.

          • But the reduced power rates will be offset by increased taxes to cover the FIT.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You think your tax dollars aren’t going to support your electricity bill now?

            The FiT/subsidies for wind and solar are short lived. They will likely be over in the US after 2017. Subsidies for nuclear, coal and oil have been going on for many more decades than for wind and solar. And they will almost certainly keep going on long after 2017.

            Wind and solar are are glide paths to become very affordable. Without subsidies.

            The cost of nuclear and fossil fuel generation keeps on increasing.

          • Coal and natural gas aren’t subsidized directly. Certainly not at the levels renewables are.

            The cost of natural gas has declined in a big way.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The technology of natural gas fracking was largely developed using government (tax) money.

            Coal isn’t directly subsidized, but tax money was used to build the railroads that haul the coal.

            And tax dollars (along with health insurance premiums) pay the billions and billions dollars of health care costs resulting from burning coal.

            If coal was forced to pay its external costs it would be the most expensive of all the ways we make electricity.

            Your tax dollars and your health insurance premiums subsidize coal. Massively.

          • Sure. But as I said before on a per BTU basis fossil fuels aren’t subsidized nearly as much as renewables.

            But regardless I thought we were discussing the actual economics of choosing the fuel. Most of the costs you mentioned are sunk.

            if a city is deciding whether to build, natural gas, or renewables, the actual economics to them indicate natural gas is the cheapest.

            That’s why so much natural gas is being built. Even in areas with portfolio standards, tariffs, and punitive regulation.

            The costs to society as a whole may be higher

          • Bob_Wallace

            You are trying to compare mature technologies against emerging technologies. That is not a reasonable comparison.

            Take a look at how much each technology received in its first 15 years.


            Then look at how much each has received over a century.


            Finally, factor in the fact that wind has decreased over 6x in the last 30 years, solar panels have fallen about 200x.

            Oil and coal prices continue to increase.

          • Oil and coal, and especially natural gas prices are not increasing. They have declined considerably.

            Of course those technologies are mature. But we’re supposed to be discussing the current cost to employ them versus the current cost of renewables. Not a hypothetical future cost of wind.

          • Coal miners are losing their jobs by the hundreds.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Flint nappers lost their jobs when we moved to metal points.

            Buggy and harness manufacturers lost their jobs when we started driving cars.

            Typesetters lost their jobs when we moved to computer printing.

          • But the government didn’t force it upon them in the name of “job creation” using their own taxes.

          • Bob_Wallace

            So what?

            You like the idea that 13,000 Americans die unnecessarily each year from coal pollution?

            You like the idea that we pay almost $0.20/kWh for coal produced electricity.

            The main reason we form governments is to protect ourselves against people and things that would harm us.

          • I don’t like any of those things. I’m talking about job creation as indicated in my previous two posts.

          • Bob_Wallace

            There are apparently about 90,000 people employed in coal mining.


            There are somewhere between 850,000 and 1,000,000 people employed in renewable energy.


            Look for the renewable jobs to grow much faster now that wind and solar have continued to fall in price.

            It looks to me as if we’ve created a ton of jobs with our subsidies. And we’re getting ready to create tons and tons more. There are more people working in solar than in coal. I’ll bet you that we’ll double that number over the next couple of years. We’re almost certainly going to see an avalanche of new solar with the enormous price drops.

          • You just intentionally compared coal mining (not including coal generation) to direct and indirect jobs in:


            Some of those don’t even compete with coal. If you include ethanol then you should also compare to oil exploration, production and all refining jobs.

            Plus, if you’re talking about wind and solar then you should include coal power plants.

            That’s the most dishonest post I’ve ever seen. And you’re demonstrating that you don’t really want to discuss these issues.

            You’re intractable and I leave you to you delusions.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “You’re intractable and I leave you to you delusions.”

            Well, you finally reveal your true nature.

            We wish you a fond goodbye and safe voyage to back under your bridge.

          • You didn’t address the problems with your comparisons. Totally flawed.

          • U.S.A. lives by the rules of “corpocracy” – worships ROI – has nothing to do with social justice society building, or the peon – he/she is reduced to a near worthless, powerless pawn in this “White Shirt and Tie” game of high stakes? Even Wisconsin, Michigan governments into union busting on behalf of the corporate bottom lines?

          • Northern B.C. paying high wages still can’t find enough miners!

    • Update: McGuinty government collapsed, ‘cut and run’ by threats of exposure for gas plant bribes, and motives for building them, Thanks to an astute NDP leader Ms. Andrea Horwath. Huge awareness of the damaging “Branch Plant” mentality of the conservatives have made the NDP even more popular as the U.S. swirls down the spiral to bankruptcy, closes “Branch Plants” across Ontario causing unemployment, social distress here. The Federal Conservative party has made amazing economic ties to China, welcomed by all Canadians, and in fact: China soon to become our largest trading partner (A more rewarding trade partner too because the Yuan they pay out are not manipulated away by the U.S. Feds?). Ontarians pay premium, almost penalty prices for electricity, much less for natural gas if one compares Btu to Btu. Wind Power growing fast enough to cause controversy considering proximity to urban settings, and Solar in desperate need of the same politics as found in Germany for proper development. Expect huge surge in Ontario wealth after the NDP under Thomas Mulcair bring Tar Sands Oil East, as well as exporting it through the north, by sea, to China.

      • mk1313

        Bull EFFING crapola! CHINA is NOT welcomed by all or even the majority of Canadians. We recognize the dictatorship that is the Harpo Marx clown government and it’s ties to the totalitarian regime in China. It’s hidden agenda of FIPA got delayed because huge numbers of us recognise it as the sellout that it is. The NDP seem to be the only party not in the hip pocket of big money. What we need is a complete reform of the electoral system that permits a 1st past the post BS majority when only taking a minority of total votes. We also need a means to yank a gov’t from office when it pulls a Harpo or a McSquinty sellout!

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