Ontario’s future economy dependent on precarious natural gas

By Donald Jones, P.Eng.

The now defunct 2007 Integrated Power System Plan set a 14,000 MW limit on nuclear which is the capacity of all the nuclear units in Ontario, including the two closed units at Pickering and the two being refurbished at Bruce, and this was expected to meet around 50 percent of Ontario’s future electricity needs. The recently announced Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP) has dropped this to 12,000 MW which the government now thinks is enough to meet the same 50 percent. This means 10 existing nuclear units will be refurbished and a new 2.000 MW station will be built at Darlington. The rationale for the 50 percent limit on nuclear generation is explained in the LTEP as follows.
“Ontario will continue to rely on nuclear power – at its current level of contribution to the supply. Nuclear generation is ideally suited for providing baseload generation because of its unique economic and operating characteristics. Nuclear plant operational design and economics depend on the plants being able to operate steadily throughout the year. A generation mix of 50 per cent nuclear combined with baseload hydroelectric generation is sufficient to meet most of Ontario’s baseload requirements.

If nuclear capacity beyond this were added, the hours in the year in which nuclear capability exceeded Ontario demand could substantially increase. Under such surplus conditions, some nuclear units might need to be shut down or operate differently than intended. This could lead to significant system and operating challenges and so therefore, generating too much nuclear is undesirable.”

Flexibility concerns with nuclear and the need for sufficient and suitable demand response loads on the grid have been mentioned in previous articles on this website. With nuclear supplying 50 percent and assuming adequate water is available hydro will be expected to supply around 25 percent of Ontario’s needs so in the absence of coal-fired generation after 2014 enough natural gas-fired generation will have to be available to provide the 25 percent balance. The government expects wind and solar to help out but no matter how many megawatt-hours of energy wind and solar provide over the year the megawatts cannot be guaranteed to be there when they are needed. This means that Ontario’s economy will be dependent on a supply of non-renewable natural gas at a reasonable price, which may be too much to expect given the price volatility of the past. The precarious future of natural gas has been described in previous articles on this website.

Serious thought has to be given to an immediate fix by keeping the current mix of coal-fired and gas-fired generation and not close any more coal plants and not build anymore gas plants. Money being spent on wind projects must be used to install flue gas clean up on the coal units and improve the reliability of the present centralized grid with modern equipment, reinforcement, redundancy and more remote monitoring of equipment.

8 thoughts on “Ontario’s future economy dependent on precarious natural gas

  1. “Serious thought has to be given to an immediate fix”


    Unfortunately the only “serious” Dalton is capable of is the screw up variety!

    (I don’t hold out much hope for anyone else in the Legislature on either side of the floor either!)


  2. Specific to this column, my suspicion is that the phrase “operational design and economics depend on the plants being able to operate steadily throughout the year” is excluding consideration of the ACR 1000 (I’m assuming this is why the word ‘economics’ was included, as that design should allow load following – as I understand it).
    The other strange terms in the LTEP I noted was exploring existing coal units for conversion to gas, possibly co-fired with biomass. Two things about that.
    1 is Tom Adams claims a refitted Nanticoke, for gas alone, would be far dirtier than the canceled plant in Oakville, and
    2 cofiring with biomass is in many US plans for reducing GHG’s – but cofiring with coal, which I thought was also the focus of OPG prototypes. There seems to me increasing evidence SOx and NOx emissions from coal are controllable now. I’d be skeptical how much of a CO2 benefit, if any, there was to refitting for natural gas over cleaning up the coal, as the Eves’ government promised to start back in 2003.
    I noted in September a link for feedback the government had posted leading up to the Long Term Energy Plan.

    The 45-day period for commenting on the Supply Mix Directive started with the release of the LTEP, and that online form is at


  3. “consideration of the ACR 1000 ”

    Yeah, and the taxpayers will be on the hook again to pay the development costs of a reactor that has yet to be built anywhere with future sales of same likely non-existent outside the country. Isn’t this in large part the reason why we were stuck with that 30 billion stranded debt in the first place?

    If we are going to develop a new reactor, why don’t we develop one’s that can extract more then just 1% of the energy in the fuel they use? Although I’m GA-GA on nuclear energy, I have no use for the CANDU or ANY neutron moderated reactor for that matter. They are far, far too wasteful.

    With a multitude of organizations both government and otherwise developing small, modular, factory built nuclear technology, I can’t see how more of the same only bigger will ultimately solve anything.


    If we are going to build for the future, then let’s do that. Rehashing failed technologies from the past likely isn’t the way to get there.


  4. B.B.W., I don’t disagree with that – I’m not qualified to agree with it either.

    I simply pointed out the wording of the LTEP excluded taking any risk on a new generation reactor of any sort.
    I think they are considering either CANDU6 or some slightly differentiated design.

    I’ve been collecting my thoughts on the LTEP, and the supply mix directive (which is more immediately relevant), on my blog at http://morecoldair.blogspot.com

    Specific to Mr. Jones’s column, the 2000MW reduction in the amount of desired nuclear matches up very well with increasing wind supply by 5-6000MW, once capacity factors are considered.
    The difference between what has been happening and the proposed mix going forward is gas was being added more quickly than wind. But the proposed supply mix ‘goal’ doesn’t back-up the new wind supply with anything!

  5. Maybe rationing is the next step…


    That will cut our energy needs.

    Cancun climate change summit:

    scientists call for rationing in developed world Global warming is now such a serious threat to mankind that climate change experts are calling for Second World War-style rationing in rich countries to bring down carbon emissions.


    Don’t even count on the gas if these lunatics gain the upper hand!

  6. Combined cycle gas turbines do not have the ability to follow the changing loads and wind outputs like coal generation does. Gas must be loaded much higher to give it the ability to follow at all. This will create another source of base generation on top of the nuclear and hydro-electric (such as Saunders G.S. on the St. Lawrence). This will necessitate the shutdown of, at least, some of the nuclear to make room for gas since our ignorant Liberals have backed themselves into a no coal future. These idiots have painted themselves into a corner. This is what happens when governments turn their backs on independent expert opinion and start listening to self interested NGOs. Oh, and by the way, that single cycle plant that is/was planned for the Holland Marsh will follow load and the Wind outputs quite well, although it will put out CO2 about equal to a coal plant at much higher costs. Just a hint of what our Liberal/OPA are really up to;)! This pollution on top of all the newly added base load combined cycle gas generation. Nothing gained, much lost!

  7. Rick:

    Thanks for that information re Gas. It was my assessment but it’s not my area of knowledge. I was looking at the “pollution” outputs for the Siemens generators and came to the conclusion that there was a decrease in CO2 (who cares?) NO and N2O etc — but why would you replace a coal plant with that technology?

    As for following loads — not necessary — it may as well be combined cycle generators we purchase. IESO appears to be “ignoring” wind and scheduling and contracting enough generation that there is always sufficient surplus to export the excess wind capacity — in value.

    I am not criticizing the decision — I think it was a good decision on the part of IESO.

    Buy for 14 cents — sell for 2 cents — just make it up in volume! Good business plan Mr Premier McGuinty, Sir!

  8. Coal is extremely easy to clean up. So much so that I am amazed [some] governments are ga-ga on phasing it out to be largely replaced with natural gas. As Rick has pointed out, this will likely reduce CO2 not one bit. As for sulfur and emissions of nitrogen oxides, the right combustion technology completely addresses these pollutants and the end result is a coal, or waste-to-energy plant with LESS harmful emissions then natural gas.

    I stumbled across this technology well over a DECADE ago while researching waste-to-energy tech…

    Check this out: http://www.energyproducts.com/fluidized_bed_combustors.htm

    One technology to solve multiple problems…

    All we need now is intelligence in politics (there’s an oxymoron for you!)


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