The Observer
January 12, 2012
Cathy Dobson

Ontario coal use hits 50-year low

Ontario’s coal-fired electricity generation is at its lowest level in 50 years, but that’s not necessarily the whole story behind the province’s cleaner air, says Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey.

Newer technology at coal-fired plants like Lambton Generating Station has helped reduce smog, he said.

"So is tremendous shrinkage in the manufacturing sector."

The Ontario Clean Air Alliance is applauding new figures that show only 2.7% of Ontario’s electricity generation was coal-fired in 2011. That’s the lowest level of coal use since 1961.

At the same time, the province’s electricity consumption spiralled downward, and was 10% lower than in 2005.

"Ontario is heading in the right direction after making a dirty detour into coal and nuclear power from the 1960s onwards," said the alliance’s Angela Bischoff.

"Now we can finish the job by completely phasing out coal in 2012 and by investing in energy efficiency to reduce our electricity demand even further, increase our productivity and lower our energy bills."

But Bailey said it’s not that simple.

"This Ontario Clean Air Alliance can hang their hat on that, but I think pollution could be down because of the effect of the economy.

"A lot of manufacturing facilities have been shut down and a lot of energy production hasn’t been needed," Bailey said.

That, as much as anything, has contributed to air improvement, he argued.

Bailey pointed out that the U.S., Japan and Europe plan to burn more coal.

"They’re actually building more plants with newer technology and, hopefully, they’ll be as clean as the Lambton plant, which this (Liberal) government is committed to closing."

The Ontario government invested more than $500 million over the past 20 years to install new technology including scrubbers on the two units that continue operating at LGS, and making the coal-fired electricity produced there much cleaner.

Two units at LGS were shut down last year, throwing 100 people out of work. Another 300 employees continue to operate the remaining two units earmarked for closure in two years.

Moving away from coal to wind and solar energy production is costing Ontario taxpayers, Bailey said.

"A commitment to alternative energy is resulting in higher prices and will continue to go up.

"Wind power is 8 to 11 cents per kWh compared to 4 or 5 cents for coal," Bailey said. "That will be borne by the consumer."

The price of keeping the lights on went up most recently on Nov. 1.

On-peak power in Ontario rose to 10.8 cents a kilowatt hour, up 0.1 cents. Mid and off-peak power rose 0.3 cents a kWh, to 9.2 cents and 6.2 cents a kWh.

That means the average consumer using 800 kWh a month is paying $2.11 more for electricity.

The reason for the price increase is more expensive power coming online, including refurbished nuclear units at the Bruce Generating Station and increased wind generation.

Under the government’s Green Energy Act, wind and solar generation, along with forms of renewable power, are subsidized.