February 04, 2011 {authors} {/authors}

Ontario weans itself from coal and embraces nuclear

The province is subsidizing renewable sources, boosting parts of the energy industry but increasing costs for ratepayers

{authors} By Ontario weans itself from coal and embraces nuclear {/authors}

Andrew Bowerbank has been at the forefront of the sustainability movement. The Ontario-based consultant has served as executive director of the World Green Building Council and is a member representative at the United Nations’ environmental program.

Bowerbank is considered a leading authority on Ontario’s Green Energy Act, a bold plan that has led to improvements in the province’s electrical grid system, a shift in its baseload power sources and an increased reliance on renewables. 

The Canadian province is on a path to wean itself from coal – which it imports from the United States -- completely by 2030 and rely more heavily on nuclear and hydro-electric power for its baseload power.

The downside: The “feed-in-tariff” programs that guarantee providers of solar, wind, biogas and other renewables an above-market price for power for extended periods is driving up consumer costs. Ratepayers can expect their power bills to double over the next five years, Bowerbank says.

We talked with Bowerbank after his recent appearance in Denver at an event sponsored by the Consulate General of Canada, the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association and the law firm Patton Boggs. (Watch a video of the interview. This transcript was edited for clarity and space.) Part two will focus on electric cars and green building.

On Ontario’s Green Energy Act

“The province came together with industry leaders and various levels of government to look at the electricity grid because back in 2003 there were a lot of problems,” Bowerbank says. “We were importing a lot of electricity from the U.S. Our nuclear problems were really starting to develop; we had an aging infrastructure.

“So how do we try to fix a lot of the systems and also look at the environmental opportunities? The air we were breathing, both for ourselves and also how we were affecting northern New York state, with all of the coal we had was becoming a bit of an issue.

“Ontarians do love their environment, and there is a good push to look after the environment, but we’re also one of the largest manufacturers of automotive parts in northern America. How do you develop a continued push toward economic prosperity, especially in today’s times, look after the environment and also maintain a strong electric grid with populations increasing leaps and bounds over the next few years?

“We stepped back to take a look at this and said, ‘One of the first things we have to do is get off of coal.’ We have to make sure that we use our opportunities to reduce our coal but at the same time boost the nuclear component as our baseload, add that to the amount of water that we have in Ontario and Quebec as well. We use hydro as a mechanism for baseload support.

“Our goal is to really get off of coal completely by 2030. We’re already halfway there at least, and doing very, very well. We had about 40 megatons of carbon emissions going into the atmosphere in 2003; right now we’re only at about 10 megatons because of all of the work we’ve done. The estimate is that it will be five megatons of carbon into the atmosphere with of all of the work we’ve been doing.  

“Part of that drive to move forward is the feed-in-tariff program, where we gives really good long-term contracts to people who provide renewable energy technology onto the grid – 80 cents a kilowatt hour for solar and 15 to 18 cents a kilowatt hour for wind, and also biogas and bioenergy and other sources.

“It gives a really good formula for a system that is diversified. I think we’re going to have a very sophisticated system that is really going to keep Ontario as leaders in North America.”

And who is paying for it? Ratepayers.

“Consumers know that their taxes are going to improving the energy system. The government has made no bones about how the cost of electricity over the next five years could double,” Bowerbank says.

“But we were dealing with an infrastructure that was a dinosaur. It really wasn’t meeting up to what we needed from a large leader in manufacturing in North America. When you have rolling brownouts and you’re manufacturing car parts, you just can’t have that. Things had to change.

“We had to come to grips with reality a little bit and realize that our nuclear had to be looked at, new plants put in place, and existing ones that were put in place the ’70s had to be refurbished. A lot of the costs associated with that have to come through the tax base.

“I consider it a market that is in transition. There are some people on both sides of the fence on how we’re doing with this, but I think by and large everybody recognizes it’s the right direction.” 

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About Ontario weans itself from coal and embraces nuclear

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