Canada, the United States, and nearly every other advanced economy has committed to net-zero carbon emissions, which makes the phaseout of natural gas not a question of if, but how and when.
Just as Ontario should be exploring available and affordable alternatives, the electricity system operator is planning to increase the use of natural gas for electricity generation. The province’s carbon emissions are quickly heading in the wrong direction, and electricity generation is the fastest growing source of emissions, increasing 52% since 2017 and forecasted to rise 340% by 2030. That equates to over 8 million tonnes of additional carbon pollution annually, putting Ontario’s 2030 climate commitments firmly out of reach.
TAF and others including 31 municipalities representing half of Ontario have called on the province to develop a strategy to phase out gas generation by 2030. To ensure a useful study and viable strategy, TAF specifically recommended that the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) assess the feasibility of several phaseout dates with interim targets.
Instead, the IESO released a study last week that is leaving many energy experts scratching their heads. They only considered a total gas phaseout by 2030, and completely ignored other possible scenarios, like phasing out most gas by 2030 and completing the phaseout by-or-before 2035. The study also fails to consider the ongoing and rapid reductions in the costs of renewable energy and storage technologies. Assumptions and data sources are poorly detailed, leaving analysts like us with little to evaluate or interpret. By limiting the scope, the IESO has manufactured a scene of rolling blackouts and skyrocketing electricity rates.
Canada, the U.S., and recently the U.K. have committed to phasing out gas fired electricity generation by 2035, and yet the IESO doesn’t see the writing on the wall. Pretending that continuous and indefinite expansion of gas generation is a viable option reveals how short-sighted our energy planning is, remaining entrenched in outdated pathways that lead to stranded assets and carbon lock-in.
Ontario households will pay the price – expanding the role of gas generation exposes the province to a more costly low carbon transition than necessary down the road. Meanwhile, Ontario also risks losing out on jobs and investment from the increasing number of companies with net-zero commitments that will not locate new facilities in jurisdictions without a plan for a zero-emissions electricity system.
What Ontario needs is a thorough study of how to phase out gas generation cost effectively and as close to 2030 as possible while maintaining grid reliability. Local climate action, including low-carbon buildings and transportation, cannot succeed without a clean and reliable electricity grid. The Minister of Energy has directed the IESO to report back by next fall with a plan and target date for phasing out gas generation, including a moratorium on construction of any new gas plants.
It is critical that municipalities and other stakeholders who have advocated for a gas phaseout continue to engage with the province and the IESO to ensure we get the plan we need. Let them know that a zero-carbon electricity system is critical to Ontario’s environmental and economic future.