Why is Ontario turning its back on low-cost, low-carbon power?

This article appeared in the Hill Times on Nov. 21, 2022

The Doug Ford government’s perplexing approach to keeping the lights on in Ontario took another bizarre turn recently when it tore up an energy co-operation agreement with Quebec.

This agreement was a way for Ontario to access the low-cost clean water power that Quebec has in abundance. Quebec is a green-energy superpower. Ontario, not so much.

Our province plans to ramp up its use of gas plants by more than 600 per cent and build the equivalent of three new gas plants. If this occurs, we will lose half the greenhouse gas pollution reduction benefits we achieved by phasing out our dirty coal plants. While the federal government struggles to display our green credentials at COP27, Ontario could blow a hole through federal climate targets in one fell swoop.

Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith says he wants to ensure future energy deals are made through competitive processes. That is, unless they involve unproven new nuclear reactors, or hideously expensive nuclear rebuilds. Then, just send the bills to the government and it will pay whatever is required, no questions asked.

Choosing the highest cost and slowest options available is a strange way to meet a promise to lower electricity bills. Meanwhile, Ontario covers its eyes and ears and refuses to work with its power-
rich neighbour, turning away offer after offer for power that is a fraction of the cost of new or even existing nuclear.

But isn’t Quebec about to run out of power? No. Would a province that is running out of power to export be fighting tooth and nail to build new transmission lines to the northeast states? Ontario could double power imports from Quebec today using existing transmission lines, and could double them again by building new lines through existing transmission corridors, at a fraction of the cost of building new reactors, saving Ontarians billions of dollars.

Quebec’s own power demand will likely rise, but here’s the thing: Quebec can free up power for export by improving its rock-bottom energy efficiency levels. One study found that Quebec could free up 30-billion kWh for export by taking cost-effective steps to improve its energy efficiency. As well, Quebec’s wind power potential—that is, its ability to build new wind projects in easy reach of its existing transmission lines—is double Ontario’s total electricity consumption. Its solar power potential is equally vast. And power from both sources can be stored in Quebec’s giant hydro reservoirs—a natural battery—which Ontario could also benefit from.

The federal government could use a little of its own power to encourage greater co-operation between Canada’s two largest provinces. By passing strong Clean Electricity Regulations that ban the construction of new gas plants effective immediately and require Ontario to phase-out its existing gas plants by 2030, the feds can give Ontario a strong incentive to import power from its next door neighbour. If the feds don’t act to prevent Ontario from cranking up the gas, it could be 10 straight misses on achieving national climate targets.

We have just seven years to prevent global temperatures from hitting levels we simply can’t live with. You’re not going to see a new nuclear reactor come online in the next seven years. We need
climate-smart electricity solutions now, not decades from now. One of those solutions lies in bringing provinces together to collaborate on building a smart green energy future. The Trudeau government must make it happen, if Ontario won’t.

Angela Bischoff is director of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.