According to the Ontario government, the future is electric.
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If you’ve watched television or browsed online lately, advertisements for Ontario’s electric future have been plentiful.
Putting the cart before the horse, the ads have been running for several months, long before Energy Minister Todd Smith finally laid out the province’s plan to achieve its electric goals earlier this month.
Like many, I wondered how the province could have a greater electric future with the current infrastructure and power generation sources.
Ontario has one of the most efficient electrical grids in the world, with most electrical generation coming from (on average) nuclear sources (43 per cent), hydro (23 per cent), natural gas (20 per cent), wind (5.1 per cent), solar (two per cent) and biogas (0.6 per cent), according to Gridwatch.ca.
It’s also one of the cleanest, with only six per cent of the supply emitting carbon dioxide. Shuttering the province’s coal-fired power plants is largely responsible for this, a decision the province made in 2003 and completed by 2014.
According to a report in the Narwhal, Ontario was the first jurisdiction in North America to do this, a decision that “is lauded as the single largest emissions reduction measure across the world.”
But Ontario’s capacity to produce enough electricity to support a growing population and economy has long been in question, particularly as the province has made several large funding announcements in recent years to advance battery power storage and electric automobile manufacturing.
The province’s nuclear generation facilities in Kincardine and Pickering are aging. The plant in Pickering was set to close in 2025, then bumped to 2026 thanks to a planned small-scale refurbishment.
With more than 40 per cent of the province’s electrical production coming from nuclear energy, electric generation will have to rely more heavily on other sources such as natural gas, which will increase CO2 emissions.
Smith announced July 5 that the government proposes to build a new nuclear facility, an expansion of the current one in Kincardine. It’s the first brand-new build in more than 30 years. Also announced was the intention to build three more small modular reactors in Pickering.
This is subject to approvals and consultations with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, local indigenous groups, communities, and approvals after passing various environmental impact assessments. A firm cost wasn’t given, but it’s well into the billions, and the process will take more than 10 years to complete.
What to do in the interim?
Despite axing all previous renewable energy programs implemented by the former Liberal government when they were elected in 2018, the Progressive Conservatives seem to have finally realized renewable energy sources must be part of an energy plan.
On July 10, Smith announced the Powering Ontario plan, which seeks to procure electricity generation from sources that will include “non-emitting energy technologies such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and biogas.”
Again, this will be subject to consultations and approvals. But it’s a step in the right direction.
What worries me is how this return to renewables may affect the farming sector. Will it be a win?
Previous programs allowed farmers to offset electricity costs. If more emphasis is placed on biogas, farmers could have a market for manure and crop waste, as well as generating their own energy. It will be a win if it’s implemented in a way that benefits both farmers and their rural communities.
Or will it be a cash grab for companies seeking government investment funds?
I’ve attended conferences in the past seven months that have explored the link between agriculture and energy production — one on agrivoltaics, the other on biogas.
While the intention of many in attendance is to grow the green energy sector, I get the feeling there are those who look at rural areas and farms with dollar signs in their eyes.
And they don’t necessarily understand what a farmer or rural community needs, either.
As more information becomes available on renewable energy initiatives, be cautious of who might be driving up the laneway.