Canadian Underwriter

Ontario looks to reduce effects of climate change by banning coal-fired electricity generation

November 24, 2015   by Canadian Underwriter

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Ontario took the North American lead Monday by passing legislation to permanently ban coal-fired electricity generation, a move the provincial government calls as a significant step in the fight against climate change.

The landmark law – Ending Coal for Cleaner Air Act – represents a first in North America, notes a statement from Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. The law was passed in the lead-up to the United Nations’ Conference of the Parties in Paris, where climate change will be a key issue.

Ontario bans coal-fired electricity generation

Climate change is not a distant threat; it is already costing the people of Ontario, notes the ministry statement. “It has devastated communities, damaged homes, businesses and crops and increased insurance rates. The cost of inaction is far too high,” the ministry continues.

Ontario’s new act – meant to build on Ontario’s leadership on climate change – prevents new and existing facilities from burning coal for the sole purpose of generating electricity. It sets maximum fines for violators and enshrines the health and environmental benefits of making coal-fired electricity illegal in law.

The Ontario ban follows the province’s decision to close its last coal-fired power plant – the Thunder Bay Generating Station, what was the oldest coal-fired station in the province – in 2014.

By April of last year, the ministry notes, coal-fired electricity was eliminated from all Ontario Power Generation stations and, currently, more than 90% of the power generated in the province comes from clean energy sources such as water, nuclear and renewables. For example, the Thunder Bay Generating Station was scheduled last spring to be converted to burn advanced biomass, a renewable fuel source.

Pointing out that closing coal-fired plants is among the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction initiatives in North America, the ministry reports that the closure has eliminated more than 30 megatonnes of annual GHG emissions (equivalent to taking seven million vehicles off our roads) and contributed to reducing the number of smog days in Ontario from 53 in 2005 to zero in 2015.

Glen Murray

“Provincial efforts are critical to Canada’s success to fight climate change and Ontario will work closely with the new federal government to fully leverage all possible opportunities to continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says Glen Murray [pictured right], Ontario’s environment and climate change minister.

Ontario plans to release a Climate Change Strategy that looks forward to 2050, which sets out the province’s vision and objectives for meeting its GHG emission reduction targets and pursuing a prosperous low-carbon economy.

Ontario is also engaging with the business community, environmental groups and First Nations, among others, on the design of a cap and trade program. “A cap and trade program effectively reduces the amount of greenhouse gas pollution going into our atmosphere by setting a limit on emissions, rewarding innovative companies, providing certainty for industries, and creating more opportunities for investment,” notes a ministry backgrounder on climate change.

“The world is warming faster than ever and human activities are changing weather patterns. These changes concern scientists around the world who warn that failure to lower emissions will have consequences,” the backgrounder states.

The backgrounder page also provides an explanation of how cap and trade works (including the financial impacts of climate change and carbon pricing in other jurisdictions) and a timeline of action.

On Sunday, in line with its Climate Leadership Plan, Alberta announced the province will phase out all pollution created by burning coal and transition to more renewable energy and natural gas generation by 2030.

Related: Alberta to phase out pollution created by burning coal by 2030

The report states two-thirds of coal-generated electricity will be replaced by renewables – primarily wind power – while natural gas generation will continue to provide “firm base load reliability.” By 2030, renewable energy sources will comprise up to 30% of Alberta’s electricity production.

Beyond transitioning to renewable electricity sources, the plan also puts a price on carbon pollution for everyone, sets emissions limits for the oilsands (the provincial government plans to legislate an overall emissions limit of 100 megatonnes, with provisions for new upgrading and co-generation), supports green technological innovations, and provides supports to ensure families and small businesses are protected.