Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
June 16, 2024
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Without a Plan

In January, the Gazette reported that the Greater Napanee Council had approved another gas plant, proposed by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to expand operations at the Lennox and Napanee stations.

That Council also approved proposals for three new Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS).

Last month, Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) approved the new gas plant, but not the three BESS.

In January, Energy Minister Todd Smith said, “new BESS won’t be online until 2025. We need gas till then.”

The cancellation of battery storage projects will contribute to Ontario’s failure to meet the federal government’s targets to phase out fossil fuel generation by 2035 and reach net zero by 2050.

The IESO predicts that by 2030, 25 per cent of Ontario’s electricity will be generated by natural gas. In 2017 this figure was only 4 per cent.

The new 430MW turbine “peaker plant” will cost $2.2 billion.

In November 2021, MPP Smith wrote a letter to the Gazette defending a proposal to expand natural gas into Cherry Valley, a project that has since been cancelled. Heat pumps are now the new normal.

“The former Green Energy Act forced Ontario into contracts with wind and solar power producers that cost significantly higher than market price, producing a bad deal for Ontario ratepayers. This plan was neither affordable, nor reliable. That’s why one of the first things we did was wind down more than 750 unnecessary and wasteful renewable energy contracts signed by the previous government, including White Pines.

“Doing so means we saved Ontario ratepayers about $790 million in long-term electricity system costs for power that we did not need.

“I’m proud that Ontario’s electricity system is now 94-per-cent emissions-free, and as Minister of Energy and Bay of Quinte MPP, I remain committed to delivering clean, reliable and affordable energy for families, employers, small businesses, seniors, and all communities across our great province.”

Note that this argument is strictly economic. I don’t think the provincial government cares too much about Blandings turtles, or avian migratory paths.

I do not have a crystal ball, but the claim that the wind and sun would generate “power that we did not need” was and is short sighted. Where is that boast about being 94 per cent emissions-free now? By 2030, we’re going to be down to 75 per cent.

The cost of wind and solar power has plummeted far below the cost of gas or nuclear power. Although I admit that the contracts of the day now look overpriced, I can’t help but think that had we kept that wind and solar we’d be ahead of where we are now, perhaps not even having to build new gas generation just six years before 2030.

The Ontario Government’s definition of “green energy” continues to be nuclear. While hardly clean, nuclear energy does not emit greenhouse gases. The big problem, of course, is the timeline. The new projects and refurbishments that the 2024 provincial budget funds are years, perhaps even decades away.

Look at its language on the new modular reactors Ontario wants to make its name with: “the government is working with OPG to commence planning and licensing for three additional Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station site.”

“Working to commence planning.” This is for a new technology untested on this continent — there are just three SMRs in the world.

The budget also mentions research into “clean hydrogen” energy production, but that’s even further away. Just $15 million is going to hydrogen, while $12 billion has been committed to the Darlington refurbishment project.

BESS remains in the budget, although, as the outcome of the Napanee proposals makes clear, local objections are stalling what is already a modest plan.

Even here, we’re not out of the gate. As usual, the language says it all: the government is looking at the “procurement of a targeted 2,500 MW of clean energy storage.”

“Procurement” means nothing exists yet; “targeted” means “good intentions” at best.

Political decision-making is short-term. We are facing the consequences of the failure of long-term vision, never mind planning.

The ease with which this government extends and expands its reliance on gas is troubling. Ten years from now, with nuclear still in the future, what will we turn to? Gas.

Why? Because there is no commitment to existing, tried-and-true wind and solar. None.

The cheaper, practical forms of truly clean power generation.

It’s almost as if the provincial government loves burning gas so much that, out of revenge against the sea change in consumer choice — switching to heat pumps, adopting electric vehicles — they are going to make sure that those local electric devices depend upon gas at some point in the power delivery chain.

Could we have seen this coming? Is it possible that the green contracts awarded in the 2010s could see the future? The demand was lower at the time — we were selling off our electricity below cost — but look at us now, racing to catch up with a set of last-minute fossil fuel band-aids.

It’s hard to run with your pants down.

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 23 edition of The Picton Gazette
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