Ontario’s new Long-Term Energy Plan is both encouraging and worrisome. The former because it recognizes the importance of clean air and addressing climate change; the latter because of its embrace of nuclear power and its lack of a road map to expand renewable energy.
To its credit, the plan — produced by the Energy Ministry rather than Environment — acknowledges the importance of Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan and says the government is committed to an electricity system in which renewables play “an essential role”.
Unfortunately, the document does not set out energy-source targets, making it difficult to know if the government is committed to significant renewables growth. As of 2016, renewables, including hydro, provided just 30 per cent of Ontario’s generation. The David Suzuki Foundation believes that, by mid-century, this figure must rise to 100 per cent.
The government is to be commended for encouraging construction of net-zero- and near-net zero-emission homes and buildings. To this end, its previously announced $4,000 incentive to install air-source heat pumps is welcome.
So too is its proposal to allow virtual net metering demonstration projects. VNM — which has been successfully deployed in British Columbia — would allow people who can’t place solar or wind infrastructure on their own property to invest in projects situated elsewhere and receive a reduction on their electricity bill. Now that Ontario’s feed-in tariff is winding down, net metering is a key strategy in building the province’s renewables industry.
The government is right to note that the end of coal-fired power — which once supplied 25 per cent of Ontario’s generation — represents a “significant transformation” of the electricity system.
But the province’s continued reliance on nuclear for about half its power is troubling. In addition to concerns around uranium mining and waste disposal, nuclear has not proven to be cost-effective. If the issue is protecting electricity customers from rate hikes, renewables are the sensible option. In his important new book, Drawdown, Paul Hawken writes, “Onshore wind is a quarter of the cost of nuclear power.” According to a 2016 research paper by Goldman Sachs, “wind provides the lowest cost source of new capacity.” Bloomberg New Energy Finance writes that, “the lifetime cost of wind and solar is less than the cost of building new fossil fuel plants.”
The Long-Term Energy Plan news release says the plan promotes energy affordability. If that is the case, it should offer a plausible route to decrease reliance on nuclear and vastly expand renewables.