Toronto Star
John Spears
July 31, 2012

Close nuclear and coal plants early, says clean air alliance

Closing Ontario’s coal burning power plants and the Pickering nuclear station ahead of schedule could save Ontario $720 million a year, says the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.

In a new paper, the alliance says the plants could be closed early without threatening the province’s energy security.

Ontario’s remaining coal-burning plants are due to shut down by the end of 2014.

The Pickering nuclear station was due to close by 2015, but Ontario Power Generation now wants to extend the life of the four reactors in the Pickering B station until 2020.

The alliance argues that earlier shut-downs of both coal and nuclear plants would save money.

The coal plants, it says, get a subsidy, funded by the "global adjustment" payment on customers’ hydro bills.

The paper also singles out the Pickering nuclear plant as a high cost producer.

Fuel and operating costs of Pickering A’s two reactors are more than four times the market price of power, it says, while Pickering B’s four reactors have costs more than double the market price.

Rather than using the coal and Pickering plants, the paper argues Ontario should import electricity from Quebec, or make more use of gas-fired generating stations that are currently under-used, it says.

Gas-fired plants operate under contracts that pay their owners well above market rates, and in fact receive about one-third of payments funded by the global adjustment fee on consumer hydro bills.

But Jack Gibbons, who heads the clean air alliance, argues it makes sense to use them in preference to nuclear plants because they are clean, and their incremental fuel and operating costs are low.

Ontario’s current generating surplus is due to shrink in 2016, when the Darlington nuclear station is due to undergo a mid-life re-fit.

The alliance says Darlington’s power can be replaced through energy efficiency programs, importing power from Quebec, and building combined heat and power plants. (These are generally natural gas-fired plants that use gas turbines to generate electricity, then capture the heat exhaust from the turbines to produce steam for heating or industrial use.)

The alliance receives 21 per cent of its funding from corporations, some of whom are gas utilities.

The coal plants and the Pickering nuclear station are all owned by Ontario Power Generation.

OPG spokesman Neal Kelly disagreed with the alliance’s conclusions.

The average price that OPG receives for the output of all its plants is well below the average received by non-OPG plants, Kelly said.

OPG produces about 60 per cent of the province’s power.

"We moderate prices, and we’re committed to being the low-cost generator," he said.

OPG plants also help over-all system operation by producing a steady supply of power that provides back-up for renewable power sources such as wind and solar, Kelly said.