Tag Archives: Ontario

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Attention environmentalists: Ontario, not Germany, is a clean energy leader

In 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a radical plan to close all the country’s 17 nuclear plants by 2022.  At the same time, the country plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 and up to 95 percent in 2050, compared to 1990 levels.  Many environmentalists and anti-nuclear types viewed this Energiewende (“energy transition”) as good news.

But Germany’s green Energiewende is producing one big not-so-green result. The regressive impact of Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear power has done little to phase out coal-fired electricity.

Despite its ambitious plans, Germany remains the coal capital of Europe.

The German broadcaster Deutsche Welle recently reported the mining company RWE is planning the expansion of some of Europe’s biggest coal mines – Garzweiler and Hambach.

Yet these developments have not stopped advocates enthusiastic about wind and solar at energy conferences in Canada from using Germany as an example of a clean energy leader. This adulation is particularly puzzling, when these people just need to look in their own backyard to find a better example of a low-carbon leader.

In 2016, Ontario’s electricity generation was 90 per cent carbon free, with nuclear accounting for 61 per cent of power generation and coal zero. In contrast, 2016 estimates for Germany show their grid was 42 per cent carbon free (a mix of 13 per cent nuclear and 29 per cent from renewables), and coal still making up 40 per cent of electricity generation.

Unlike Ontario, which used a combination of nuclear, gas and renewables to phase out coal, Germany has increased renewables, cut nuclear with very little impact on coal.

Not only do these numbers raise doubts about Germany being able to keep its emission reductions commitments, they come at a cost.

An analysis of 257 of 280 coal-fired power plants in the EU found that their 2013 emissions caused over 22,900 deaths. In Germany, 3,630 people died from coal-related illnesses in 2013, the report by the Health and Environment Alliance, Climate Action Network Europe, WWF European Policy Office and Sandbag reported.

Germany’s electricity mix is still comprised of 23 per cent lignite coal, which is often referred to as “brown” coal, which causes the highest CO2 emissions per ton when burned.

Meanwhile in Ontario, nuclear energy played an important role in Ontario’s phase-out of coal in 2014 and ending smog days across the province.

Between 2000 and 2013, nuclear-powered electrical generation rose 20 percent in Ontario, coinciding with a 27 percent drop in coal-fired electricity. During the same period, non-hydro renewables increased to 3.4 percent from one percent.  Bruce Power doubled its fleet of operating reactors from four to eight, becoming the world’s largest nuclear generating station.

While more renewable energy did come on line, Bruce Power estimates they provided 70% of the carbon free energy needed to replace the power from the shutdown of coal plants.

All in all, this major transition to a cleaner Ontario could not have happened without nuclear.

The long-term results of Germany’s Energiewende experiment are not known. Based on current data it should stand as a cautionary tale for governments thinking about replacing low-carbon nuclear energy with carbon-creating fossil fuels.  It should stand as an example of a global clean energy leader.

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Op-Ed: Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan: Why Pickering Matters

By John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association

Originally published in QP Briefing on February 7, 2017.

Ontarians and their government are completing a review of the province’s Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) to guide energy decision-making over the next three years to 2019. As anticipated in the previous LTEP (2013-16), the government of Ontario announced in December 2015 plans for the refurbishment of 10 power reactors at the Darlington and Bruce Nuclear Generating Stations over the coming 15 years. This was followed by the announcement that operations would continue at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station to 2024 to meet Ontario’s clean-power needs during the early refurbishments.

There is a fundamental logic in the decision to extend Pickering to 2024. It is the linchpin of the refurbishment process, which in turn underpins the LTEP. It optimizes an existing asset, reduces electricity system costs for Ontario ratepayers, avoids a substantial increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and supports thousands of highly skilled, full-time jobs. Moreover, its 3,100 megawatts of power help to keep emissions down and pollutants out of the air during the important early stages of the Darlington and Bruce reactor refurbishments. This in turn preserves the integrity of the refurbishment project, which will give us another 25 to 30 years of positive clean energy, environmental and economic impact. In short, the Pickering extension is part and parcel of Ontario’s long-term energy future.

So Pickering matters for the long term. But it also matters for today’s Ontarians over the next few years.

One in seven homes and businesses in Ontario is powered by the Pickering nuclear station, just east of Toronto.According to a 2016 report from the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), nuclear power costs approximately seven cents per kilowatt hour, making it one of the most cost-effective, clean electricity sources.

In fact, during the most recent speech from the throne, the government of Ontario acknowledged the financial importance of Pickering, citing a cost-savings to ratepayers of $600 million simply by keeping the reactor running through 2024.

Next, environmental benefits. Nuclear power generation is zero-emitting when it comes to greenhouse gases. Continued operations at Pickering will therefore mean cleaner air and a healthier environment for the people of Ontario. How so? The numbers are substantial. Over the next eight years, power from Pickering will avoid approximately 17 million tonnes of climate-altering GHG emissions. This is the equivalent of taking 3.4 million cars off Ontario’s roads, making Ontario’s nuclear fleet the largest contributor to the province’s 2020 emissions-reduction target. If you take the emissions avoided thanks to the work of Pickering, and couple this with the benefits of the Darlington and Bruce refurbishments, the result would be like eliminating the GHG emissions generated by almost every building in Ontario.

Recently, critics of nuclear have advocated for the early closure of the Pickering nuclear station. Their argument — that the power from Pickering could be easily replaced through imports of hydro from Quebec — misrepresents the claimed ease with which Quebec imports can substitute for Ontario’s own clean electricity system and infrastructure. It would replace a reliable non-emitting source of energy with a blind faith — that Hydro Quebec will invest billions in transmission and generation to make it happen.

In fact, the 2013 LTEP concluded that, by shutting down Pickering in 2020 rather than 2024, electricity-sector emissions would rise by a staggering 60 per cent. Ontario would have to replace a large amount of carbon-free nuclear power with natural gas, resulting in GHG emissions and a dramatic move away from the government’s climate commitments. Then there are questions over Quebec’s ability to supply the 3,100 megawatts, which would come at a commodity price higher than that of Pickering today. Quebec would need new hydro-generating capacity if it’s to replace Pickering, with many regulatory and environmental approval hurdles to surmount. And new transmission infrastructure would have to be built by both Ontario and Quebec, with Ontario’s share being at least $2 billion and requiring seven to eight years to build. Importing Quebec hydro is therefore not a viable option as a substitute for Pickering.

By contrast, the continued operation of Pickering through 2024 gives Ontario a stable, reliable, affordable and non-emitting foundation for future de-carbonization of the province’s energy system. At the same time, Pickering is a vital asset to Durham Region’s economy, providing 4,500 full-time jobs to the community and over a billion dollars in local economic benefits. These highly skilled workers come directly out of Ontario’s own population and institutions such as Durham College and UOIT; they belong to the Power Workers Union, Steelworkers, IBEW and Building Trades; they’re your neighbours.

As Ontario looks to balance the immediate and longer-term needs of the economy with protecting the environment and the electricity consumer, while adapting to emerging trends and technologies — the “triple E” (clean energy, clean environment, economic benefit) contribution of Ontario’s nuclear power generation will become all the more important to the well-being of Ontarians.

The decision by the Ontario government to keep Pickering operational through 2024 was the right one. At a time when Ontario needs affordable, reliable energy to keep the lights on — when businesses and homeowners are depending on the province to provide clean energy and keep the air free of pollutants — we need to be open about the benefits of nuclear power. Nearly 60 per cent of Ontario’s daily electricity comes from clean nuclear. That is the reality. That is why Pickering matters.

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Ontario Got Rid of Coal, But Who’s to Thank?

There’s a lot of talk about what actually contributed to the successful elimination of coal-fired electricity in Ontario. Was it oil and gas? Wind and solar? Restructuring and conservation? Additional nuclear? Advocates for each group would have you believe that their guys did the heavy lifting, but in reality, everyone played an important part.

One of the most accurate (though not necessarily simplest) ways to look at the data is to consider coal’s lost output from the time Ontario started actively phasing it out in 2006 until it was completely eliminated in 2014, and what energy sources (or conservation efforts) replaced it.

Coal plants produced 34.5 TWh in 2005, and a total of 159.4 TWh between 2006 and 2014. That means that approximately 151.1 TWh had to be made up over the course of 9 years.

(34.5 x 9) – 159.4 = 151.1

The chart below shows what energy sources increased as a function of lost coal output – as well as lost output from other sources (since it’s impossible to separate them at this level).

For example, coal production decreased from 34.5 TWh in 2005 to 28.7 in 2006. That’s a 5.7 TWh decrease in coal, which was met with increases of 5.5 TWh of nuclear, 2.5 of diesel, 0.4 of hydro and 0.1 of wind. It was also met with a 1.9 TWh decrease in natural gas and a 0.9 decline in demand.

5.5 + 2.5 + 0.4 + 0.1 – 1.9 – 0.9 = 5.7

coal-graph1

As you can see, diesel played a small part early on, but was quickly eliminated. In 2009, the global financial crisis caused a decline in energy consumption, however usage increased as the economy recovered. Natural gas made up for the largest share of lost coal between 2010 and 2012, but nuclear was clearly the main reason that Ontario was able to meet its goal in the end.

Nuclear’s strong support in the final years of coal was due mainly to the fact that Bruce Power Units 1 and 2 came back online in 2012, providing about 11 additional TWh annually to the grid.

If you look at the results in terms of total output replaced from 2006 to 2014, nuclear made up 69.6 TWh, which represents about 44% of the whole. Natural gas made up 27%, wind made up 13%, lost demand (or conservation, depending on how you look at it) made up 7%, hydro made up 6%, diesel made up 2% and solar made up less than 1%.

coal-graph2

Getting rid of coal has had enormous health and environmental benefits for Ontario. It also serves as an example to other provinces and countries of what can be realized given sufficient public support, methodical planning, and a truly diversified supply mix.

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Rolling Out Refurbishment with Reliability and Skills Development in Mind

In just a few short months, Ontario will begin refurbishing 10 nuclear reactors at the Darlington and Bruce Nuclear Generating Stations. Refurbishment means replacing key reactor parts, such as pressure tubes, so the reactors can keep operating safely and at peak performance.

Refurbishment has been planned far in advance. It will extend by decades the lives of reactors that have already provided affordable and reliable electricity to Ontarians for 25 years. And because nuclear plant operations do not emit greenhouse gases, they are also addressing Ontarians’ growing concerns about climate change.

Keeping on schedule

Just as with renovating your home or servicing your car, scheduling the refurbishments is key to minimizing inconvenience. After all, nuclear reactors provided 62% of Ontario’s electricity in 2014, and refurbishing each reactor takes two to three years. Having too many of them offline at the same time would lead to brownouts in the power grid, or force Ontario to buy more expensive – and potentially less clean – electricity from other sources.

Ontario’s 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan, which set the refurbishment program in motion, recognized these challenges. The decision to refurbish reflects three of the five core principles of the Plan: cost-effectiveness, reliability, and clean energy.

To ensure reliability, the Plan set out a sequence for refurbishment at both the Darlington and Bruce facilities:

CNA-100 Nuclear Timeline-D4 (2)

This sequence ensures that no more than three reactors are offline at the same time. It allows spacing of the refurbishments so that the teams of engineers and other skilled professionals can learn from each refurbishment. That will help them to improve their methods and generate cost savings. During the early part of the project, up to 2020, Ontario will keep operating its reactors at the Pickering facilities.

Long-term benefits

The spacing of refurbishments over 15 years will ensure that nuclear power remains the major source of Ontario’s baseload power – the foundation of the province’s electrical supply. It will also provide lasting employment to skilled workers who will have opportunities to continue working on the reactors they helped refurbish – contributing to Ontario’s economy and growing the province’s skills base.

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Can Reactor Refurbishment be Done On Time and On Budget?

Editorial - on timeOntario’s nuclear reactors have provided affordable electricity to the province since 1971. Affordable and reliable, nuclear power has become the backbone of Ontario’s electricity system.

Today, over 60% of Ontario’s electricity is currently generated by its 18 operating reactors. So, it’s understandable that Ontarians might be concerned about where their electricity will come from when Ontario begins a new refurbishment project for 10 of its reactors in 2016. The reactors are near the mid-point of their expected lifespans, and it’s time for a major tune-up, to replace key parts and ensure safety and efficiency for decades to come.

A few reactors will be refurbished at a time over 15 years, to minimize the change to baseload electricity generation. But what if the refurbishments are delayed, and what happens if they go over budget? Will Ontarians experience brownouts, or have to pay more for electricity?

The record

The record for CANDU projects, gives a good indication of actual performance when dealing with large nuclear projects. Though first-of-a-kind builds of nuclear reactors in Canada and around the world had a reputation for going over budget and schedule, the Canadian nuclear industry has more than 60 years’ experience in designing, delivering, and operating them – and we’ve learned how to get the right people, skills, and materials together to make these projects work.

So, it should not be a surprise that the most recent new-build CANDU projects around the world have all been delivered on or ahead of schedule, and on budget:

  • In 1996, the Cernavoda Unit 1 reactor in Romania was delivered on budget and on schedule.
  • From 1997-99, three of the Wolsong reactors in South Korea were delivered on budget and on schedule.
  • In 2002 and 2003, the two Qinshan Phase III reactors in China were delivered under budget and ahead of schedule.
  • In 2007, the Cernavoda 2 reactor in Romania went into operation.

The skills, coordination and experience that made these projects successful will now be used in refurbishing the Darlington reactors in Ontario.

Off-ramps

The Ontario government has required assurance in the form of “off-ramps” in the refurbishment contracts. It can stop the work if it goes over budget or schedule, and look at alternatives. That’s an important incentive for the operators and contractors to respect the terms of the deal.

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Small Reactors: Big Questions, Big Opportunities

By John Stewart
Director of Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

An Ontario politician asked me this week what I thought the prospects were for deploying nuclear energy in Alberta.  He seemed surprised when I said I thought Ontario was an equally big opportunity.

He shouldn’t have been. Yes, there’s a great future for low-carbon power in Western Canada (and I argued that Saskatchewan and Alberta should be viewed more or less together for this purpose). But I drew the politician’s attention back to his own province. While Ontario’s economy has had some challenges in the past decade-at times looking like a “have-not” compared with Alberta-its growth story is probably far from over. Managed well, it could generate enormous income and wealth for all Canadians in the century ahead.

Nuclear energy has been powering Ontario since 1962 and provides 60 percent of the province’s electricity, and a core part of its science, engineering and manufacturing capacity. But still, nuclear technology is young and its potential applications have barely been tested.

Efficient, ultra-safe small reactors look set to deliver a lot of those applications. The obvious one is making low-carbon power to displace fossil fuels wherever we use them-particularly by expanding the use of electric vehicles. There’s also processing minerals and other natural resources, driving ships, making medical isotopes, researching new materials and desalinating seawater.

There’s a huge amount we don’t know about how these opportunities will unfold and how big the market will be. We can’t see the future. But Ontario can do things to raise its already healthy changes of being part of it. Some of these are electrifying transportation, driving with this low-carbon generation (including new nuclear), and nurturing small reactors that can get our northern, native and remote communities off dirty diesel.

I explored prospects for SMR deployment in a presentation to the Ontario Power conference in Toronto in April. You can see that presentation here.