Yesterday the Ontario government cancelled future large-scale clean power projects, claiming that we have no “urgent need” to procure more electricity supply. What is clear is that projection of Ontario’s electricity generation needs is a difficult challenge, and over-projection of need has left Ontario with a costly over-supply of electricity from inflexible, centralized generation facilities. 60% of Ontario’s electricity now comes from nuclear power, and combined with overall energy efficiency improvements, demand has dampened. While the government will continue to purchase power from small and medium-sized renewable projects, it is cancelling the Large Renewable Procurement program. Up to 1,000 megawatts of clean power projects have been cancelled, which is expected to save up to $3.8 Billion in electricity system costs relative to Ontario’s 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) forecast.
While responding to the situation by putting the brakes on new generation seems rational, it is a shame to de-stabilize an emerging renewable energy sector that the Province has worked hard to build in the first place. At a time when wind and solar are reaching cost competitiveness with nuclear and natural gas generation, and are the fastest growing sectors in the energy market worldwide, scrapping large renewable energy feels out of touch.
Also, the decision ignores the fact that Toronto is grid constrained, and our population and energy demands are growing. A flexible combination of small and large scale generators of renewable energy, such as rooftop solar and off-shore wind, in concert with storage and conservation, could meet our local power demands and more. Add progressive energy efficiency policies into the mix and we have a low-carbon, cost effective electricity system for the city, enabling us to reach our ambitious climate change commitments.
It’s a good time to start the conversation about Ontario’s energy supply mix, but we need all of the options on the table. We need to make wise choices about where to source our power because decisions made now will have serious economic and environmental impacts in the future. Forecasting of future energy demand has taught us we’ll need a flexible and resilient energy grid as markets fluctuate and the effects of climate change continue to cause extreme weather. We’ll need more distributed power that is easy to turn on and off in response to demand. And of course, it needs to be low carbon and cost competitive. A mix of large and small scale renewable energy fulfils all of those necessities, and the cost per kilowatt continues to drop dramatically. When Ontario continues its long term energy planning this year, it would be prudent to address the pitfalls of locking consumers into non-renewable, expensive, high-carbon power for long periods of time.
Ontario should be proud of the strides it has taken over the past decade to phase out coal, increase renewable energy capacity, upgrade transmission infrastructure, and improve energy efficiency. Utility rates are an important consideration as many Ontarians struggle to pay for power, but there are ways to address affordability that do not involve abandoning efforts to keep abreast of global trends towards smart, resilient clean energy systems. As the LTEP review is underway, we hope to see a concerted effort among government decision makers to get Ontario back on track as a world leader in clean, low-carbon electricity.