Replacing Ontario’s Nuclear Energy?

Photo: Ilker Ender, Flickr, Pickering Nuclear Generating Station 

This blog, prepared by Jack Gibbons of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, is being shared as a guest post to respond to a few CAPE donors who have asked the question: “Where would Ontario get its baseload electricity if it shut down its nuclear plants?”

Guest Post:  Prepared by Jack Gibbons, Ontario Clean Air Alliance, January 2018

For close to 50 years, Ontario has relied on nuclear power to supply a large share of its electricity. In that half century, the cost of nuclear power has climbed steadily, the risk of nuclear accidents has been made terribly real by events in Chernobyl and Fukushima, and no jurisdiction anywhere – including Ontario – has managed to devise a practical solution for dealing with the tonnes of dangerous radioactive waste sitting outside nuclear reactors, including in the heart of the Greater Toronto Area.

In short, nuclear power has largely been a failure. It has never even come close to meeting the claim that power produced from reactors would be “too cheap to meter” and never resolved the inherent dangers of combining highly complex systems with massive failure risks.

It’s little wonder that nuclear is now a “sunset” technology with most places in the world moving rapidly away from a technology that has now been eclipsed by increasingly low-cost renewable energy systems.

Ironically, Ontario was an early adopter on renewable energy with the passage of the Green Energy and Economy Act in 2009. But the nuclear industry and its allies did a good job of blaming costs that were incurred in rebuilding a dilapidated electricity system entirely on the move to adopt a modest amount of green energy. These claims actually never added up, but they made good headlines.

Today, Ontario has reversed course, moving back to a multi-billion dollar emphasis on nuclear and ignoring the fact that renewable power has never been more attractive (prices for both solar and wind set new low records every month it seems) – it cancelled its last procurement round for large renewable projects and just ended its innovative Feed-in Tariff program.

The funny thing is, Ontario actually has a green power advantage many other places can only dream of: proximity to one of the world’s green energy powerhouses. Our neighbour, Quebec, is one of the largest producers of water power in the world. It also has stupendous (and low cost) wind power potential and, like Ontario, more than decent solar power potential. The thing is, by working together, Ontario and Quebec could create a super-powered partnership. Renewable energy works best when distributed over a wide area to compensate for conditions that may not always be favourable everywhere. So Ontario can send Quebec wind power at night or in winter when it is needed by our neighbours, while Quebec can literally store “intermittent” power by using wind or solar rather than water power when those sources are running strong in either province.

Together, we can create a system that is low cost (Quebec has the lowest electricity prices in North America), reliable (through a diverse system that doesn’t leave us dependent on one or two aging nuclear plants), and safe (no waste products or accident risk).

And what can put this partnership over the top is working together to maximize energy efficiency. Energy efficiency has proven to be a very low cost way to keep the lights on in Ontario at just 2 cents per kilowatt hour. If Quebec followed Ontario’s lead in exploiting this tremendous resource, it would be easily able to meet the demand for safe, clean power from both Ontario and a number of U.S. states. It’s a simple recipe for success and Quebec has made it clear it is ready to get things cooking. Now we just have to convince Ontario to get into the kitchen.

Related Posts:

Ontario’s Nuclear Emergency Response Plan is Far from Adequate

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Health Professionals Call for End for Coal

Coal Power Plant for Electricity Production - Chimeneas Industriales

CAPE Media Release, Toronto, May 18, 2016

More than 300,000 doctors, nurses, public health professionals and public health advocates represented by 82 organizations from 30 countries have released a Global Health Statement on Coal Plants today, in anticipation of next week’s G7 summit.  The statement calls on the G7 leaders to discuss the phase-out of coal plants as a key health issue when they meet on May 26 and 27. 

In Canada, 12 organizations have signed the statement including the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), the Canadian Lung Association, the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).   

“The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that “climate change is the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century,” said Dr. Courtney Howard, emergency room physician in Yellowknife and Board Member of CAPE. “The WHO estimates that climate change will claim the lives of 250,000 people each year by 2030 unless we take dramatic steps to reduce emissions today.”

Canada can be a global leader on this issue, building on momentum from the provinces.  Ontario no longer burns coal for electricity and Alberta intends to follow suit by 2030.  Accelerating the transition away from coal creates immediate health benefits: the avoided health impacts from Ontario’s phase-out alone are valued at approximately $3 billion per year.

“We want our leaders to understand that they can produce significant air pollution health benefits in their home countries by phasing out coal plants,” said Ian Culbert, Executive Director of the CPHA.  “The air pollution from coal plants has been clearly linked to increases in heart disease, strokes, lung diseases including lung cancer, and asthma symptoms.” 

“Ontario’s six coal plants produced approximately 600 premature deaths and 900 hospital admissions each year back in 2005” said Kim Perrotta, Executive Director CAPE.  “With their phase-out, levels of air pollution in Ontario have declined dramatically along with air pollution-related health impacts.”  

“In Alberta, the phase-out of 18 coal-fired generators is expected to produce health benefits worth about $300 million per year,” offered Dr. Joe Vipond, emergency room physician in Calgary and CAPE member.  “Imagine what we could achieve if we phased out the 16 coal-fired generators in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan as well”.

A copy of the Global Health Statement on Coal Plants is available here: https://cape.ca/global-health-statement-on-coal-plants/

 

Act Now to Prevent Global Flooding

Photo: Cpt Marie Preece, Cornwall, UK. The Wildlife Trust
Photo: Cpt Marie Preece, Cornwall.  The Wildlife Trust

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE , March 29, 2016

Climate change is no longer a distant problem.  It is happening.  And we only have a few decades to make the dramatic changes needed to avoid impacts that could be devastating (Carrington, 2016).  This is the declaration of some of the world’s leading climate scientists. 

A Flooded World

In March, nineteen climate scientists released a new study that indicates that climate change is happening much more quickly than previously predicted.  This study, which combined modern observations, modelling, and the examination of geological formations created thousands of years ago, is predicting that global sea levels could rise by several meters within 50 to 150 years if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow (Hansen et al., 2016).   The lead author, former NASA researcher James Hansen, maintains that this multi-meter increase in sea levels could occur even if we manage to limit global temperature increases to the 2 degree C target set by the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) (Milman, 2016). He and his colleagues are pushing for a more aggressive target.     

Another study, released in February, predicted that 20% of the world’s population will have to migrate away from coasts swamped by rising oceans unless we can halt climate change in the very near future (Clark et al., 2016).   Under this scenario, cities such New York, London, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Calcutta, Jakarta and Shanghai would all be submerged (Carrington, 2016).  These changes, which would be devastating at a social and economic level, are expected to last for thousands of years (Hansen et al., 2016; Clark et al., 2016).

Photo-PdPhoto-Boston University-storm-surge-hurricane2
 Photo: PdPhoto, Boston University 

These researchers are making a clarion call; they are calling for immediate action to save the world for future generations. They say that this future may still be avoided if fossil fuel emissions are rapidly phased out and agricultural and forestry practices are improved (Hansen et al., 2016).   But time is running out.

Action Needed in Canada

To keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees C (relative to pre-industrial times), the International Panel on Climate Change has indicated that greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by 70 to 95% by 2050 relative to 2010 (IPCC, 2015).  

In 2010, Canada emitted 707 megatonnes (1 million tonnes or MT) of greenhouse gases; 23% from the oil and gas industry, 24% from the transportation sector, 14% from the electricity sector, 12% from buildings, 11% from energy intensive industries, 10% from the agricultural sector, and 7% from waste and other sectors (Canada, 2016).  In order to meet our obligations to slow climate change, we will need to transform our society.  We will need to cut our reliance on fossil fuels.  We will have to revolutionize our transportation sector and redesign our communities to support walking, cycling, and public transit. We will need to invest in renewable energies, increase the energy efficiency of our buildings and industries, and change the practices in our agricultural sector. 

While the electricity sector is responsible for only 14% of all Canada’s emissions, it is seen as the sector from which reductions can be made most quickly.  Since 2005, Ontario has reduced its emissions by close to 20%.  Almost all of these reductions can be attributed to the closing of its six coal-fired power plants (Canada, 2016).  In 2015, Alberta announced its decision to accelerate the closure of its coal-fired power plants.  By doing so, it can cut its emissions by 17% by 2030 and reduce Canada’s total emissions by 6%, while producing air quality-related health benefits worth $300 million per year for its residents (Pembina et al., 2013).  

References:

  • Canada. 2016.  Canada’s Second Biennial Report on Climate Change. 
  • Carrington D. 2016.  Sea-level rise ‘could last twice as long as human history’. The Guardian, Feb 8, 2016
  • Clark P et al. 2016. Consequences of twenty-first-century policy for multi-millennial climate and sea-level change.  Nature Climate Change.  February 8, 2016
  • Hansen J et al. 2016. Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 degrees C global warming could be dangerous.  Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. March 22, 2016.  
  • International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  2015.  Climate Change Synthesis for Policy Makers.
  • Milman O.  Climate Guru James Hansen warns of much worse than expected sea level rise.  The Guardian.  March 22, 2016.
  • Pembina Institute, CAPE, Asthma Society of Canada, Lung Association of Alberta and Northwest Territories.  2013.  Costly Diagnosis: Subsidizing coal power with Albertans’ health. 
 

What’s Changed about Climate Change?

Icey Branches - Hydro Wire - Newmarket, Ontario (1)
Photo: K. Perrotta, North York, Ontario

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE, February 24, 2016.

There are huge changes in the field of climate change:

1. There is a common understanding now that climate change is happening and poses a significant threat to the environment, human health, and economies around the world.  The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that, if all trends stay the same, the world is headed towards a 2°C increase in the average global temperature by 2050 and more than a 4°C increase by 2100, relative to the pre-industrial times (i.e. 1850-1900) (1).  

At the Paris Climate Conference late in 2015, people learned about the calamitous outcomes that would be associated with these temperature increases, and nearly 200 countries agreed to work towards goals that would “keep the temperature rise well below 2°C“.  Some, including Canada, offered to work toward goals that would keep temperatures below a 1.5° rise (2). 

2.  It is now understood that a huge transformation is needed to slow climate change. To keep the temperature rise below 2° over the 21st century, the IPCC estimates that global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) must be cut by 40 to 70% by 2050 compared to 2010.  To keep the temperature rise below 1.5°, emissions will need to be cut by 70 to 95% by 2050 compared to 2010 (3).  

Solar Panel on Farm, Haliburton, Ontario, Kim Perrotta
Photo: K. Perrotta, Haliburton, Ontario

3.  The energy sector IS changing!  Fossil fuels are giving way to renewable energies and energy efficient technologies.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) has noted that renewable energies are growing quickly in response to climate supportive policies. In fact, the IEA reported that, collectively renewables became the second largest source of electricity, with coal in the lead, in 2014 (5).  It

is forecasting that global demand for electricity will grow by 70% by 2040, but coal`s share of total electricity will drop by 30%, while renewable-based electricity will provide about 50% of Europe`s electricity, 30% of China and Japan`s electricity, and 25% of India and United States` electricity (5).

Improvements in energy efficiency restrained energy demand in 2015 to one third of what it would have been without them according to the IEA (5).  It notes that energy efficiency regulations doubled their coverage of industry, buildings and the transportation sector from 14% of the world`s energy consumption in 2005 to 27% in 2014 (5).  

4.  Renewable technologies are becoming cost competitive.  The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reports that solar photo-voltaic (PV) module prices have dropped by 75% since 2009 and that residential solar PV modules now cost 65% less than they did in 2008 (4).  The Climate Group predicts that the production costs of solar panels will drop by an additional 40 to 50% by the end of the decade (4).

Vestas Wind Energy reports that it has now installed 55,000 wind turbines in 74 countries on six continents (4).  It notes that the real cost of wind energy has dropped by 58% over the last five years putting wind in the same cost range as coal and natural gas in many jurisdictions (4). 

Wind Turbines, Leamington, Ontario, Kim Perrotta
Photo: K.Perrotta, Leamington, Ontario

5.  The investment sector is targeting energy efficient and low carbon technologies.  The United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) Finance Initiative reports that investors are forming coalitions to identify investments that do not involve fossil fuels (i.e., decarbonize their investments).  He reports that the Signatories to the Principles of Renewable Investment now represent over $50 trillion in investments worldwide and that green bonds, worth US$60 billion, were issued in 2015 (4).

6.  The energy transformation is expected to produce significant health benefits.  Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), has identified the Climate Agreement sought in Paris as “the most important health agreement of the century“.  She identified it as “an opportunity to promote actions that can yield large and immediate health benefits, and reduce costs to health systems and communities“(6).  For example, the closure of the six coal-fired power plants in Alberta is expected to produce air pollution-related health benefits worth approximately $300 million per year or $3 billion over 10 years (7).

7.The energy transformation can produce economic opportunities and jobs!  Estimates indicate that Canada’s clean energy generation sector brought in CAD$10.9 billion in 2014; up 88% from 2013 (CEC, 2015).  Estimates also suggest that the clean energy sector provided 26,900 jobs in Canada in 2013; up by 14% from the previous year (8).

8.  What does Canada need to do?  In 2013, Canada emitted 726 mega-tonnes (1 million tonnes or MT) of greenhouse gases: 25% from the oil and gas industry, 23% from the transportation sector, 12% from the electricity sector, 12% from buildings, 11% from energy intensive industries, 10% from the agricultural sector, and 7% from waste and other sectors (9).  Canada is committed to reducing GHG emissions to 622 MT by 2020 and 524 MT by 2030 (9).  Where are these emission reductions going to come from?  This will be the focus on negotiations between the federal government and the provinces over the coming months beginning this week.  

References:

  1. International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2013. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis.
  2. Watters, Haydn.   5 Key Points in Paris Agreement on Climate Change.  CBC. Dec 12, 2015.
  3. International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2015. Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Summary for Policy Makers.
  4. COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21). 2015. Climate Change 2015-2016. http://www.climateactionprogramme.org/bookstore/book_2015
  5. International Energy Agency (IEA). 2015. World Energy Outlook 2015 Factsheet.  Global energy trends to 2040.
  6. The Global Climate & Health Alliance (GCHA).   Health and Climate at COP21 and Beyond. 
  7. Pembina Institute, CAPE, Asthma Society, Lung Association of Alberta and NWT. 2013. A Costly Diagnosis – Subsidizing coal power with Albertans’ health.  Prepared by Kristi Anderson, Tim Weis, Ben Thibault, Farrah Khan, Beth Nanni, and Noah Farber.  http://cape.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/costly-diagnosis.pdf
  8. Clean Energy Canada (CEC). 2015. Tracking the Energy Revolution – Canada 2015. 
  9. Government of Canada (Canada).   Canada’s Second Biennial Report on Climate Change.