Rivers: A Halloween Scary Story - All Trick and No Treat

By Ray Rivers

October 13th, 2021

BURLINGTON, ON

OPINION

City Council passed resolutions to phase out natural gas

Burlington is one of over 30 municipalities, comprising 60% of Ontario’s population, which have passed resolutions for Ontario to phase out natural gas electrical production by 2030. They get it. Fires, floods, droughts, insects, storms – climate change will affect us all. This week, Canada has been accused of being one of the top 10 countries by most responsible for bringing climate destruction upon the world. On a per capita basis, we rank No. 1.

Nature Climate Change, has published a new scientific report examining 100,000 events and concluding that 80% of our global land mass and 85% of the world’s population has already been affected by global climate change. The World Health Organization, the UN and health care practitioners have pointed out that air pollution from burning fossil fuels, which also drives climate change, is causing more than seven million premature deaths each year, that’s 13 deaths every minute – and almost twice what we have seen with the COVID pandemic.

Ontario was the first jurisdiction in North America to ban burning coal for electricity production, in part to clear the air of smog pollution, but also to reduce the province’s carbon footprint. By 2014, the government had shuttered the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) point source on the continent, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the province by the equivalent of removing seven million cars off the road.

To replace coal, the province began the process of developing wind and solar energy projects to complement its nuclear and hydro resources. Gas powered electricity was included only as a transitional source while the province fully developed its renewable sources, and to assist with peak power demands

He marches to his own drummer – to a tune that sounds out of key.

That all came to a stop with the election of a new government to Queen’s Park in 2018. Premier Ford did everything he could to reverse Ontario’s transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. He fought the imposition of a federal carbon tax; shut down Ontario’s emissions trading system at a cost of billions; more recently he has acquired new gas plants at a cost of $3 billion; and he has expanded natural gas infrastructure committing thousands more to the continued use of that fossil fuel.

Almost on day one Ford killed every single new renewable project he could, and even stopped those in process – some 700 in total at a cost of hundreds of millions to Ontario ratepayers. His intention was clearly to cripple the province’s renewable energy systems so that when the nukes go down, as they eventually will, natural gas powered electricity will be the only way to keep the lights on.

Natural gas is misnomer. Methane, its real name, is just another fossil fuel, and no more natural than coal or oil. However coal or oil don’t impact our climate unless they are burned. Methane, is a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG) on it’s own, as much as 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And methane is released at all stages of its lifecycle, from the well head to the home consumer.

As this is being written Canada is joining other nations in promising to reduce domestic methane emissions by 30%. But what are the chances of that if gas consumption is increased? Ontario will fail to meet the premier’s 30% emissions reduction target if fossil fuel use is expanded. And that would imperil’s Canada’s Paris commitment of a 40% GHG emissions reduction.

When the lights went out.

So when all those municipal resolutions requesting the province phase out gas production started arriving on his desk, Mr. Ford turned to the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), which manages the overall provincial supply of electricity. However the IESO is not as independent as their name implies and answered the premier’s call with the exact answer he was looking for. They scribbled two phrases on the back of their provincial pay packets. Phasing out gas by 2030 might mean power shortages and it might mean higher costs.

But this impact assessment, as they called it, is a sham. Real experts, people like Prof. Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, considered the world’s leading climate technology expert, tells us that gas power plants now cost twice as much as solar power. He should know, his team of engineering scientists and PhDs have been advising governments on renewable energy in over 140 countries, including the White House. And Canada’s ever increasing carbon tax will make the gas alternative even less competitive by 2030.

This is not the first time an arm of government, even one which calls itself independent, has let the government politicos hold the pen. And scary stories of lights flickering out and hydro bills leaving us without bread on the table could never be more timely with Halloween just around the corner. But this is very much a trick and no treat.

Wind farm in Eastern Ontario

2030 is only about a decade away. According to the Canadian Wind Energy Association, more wind energy had been built in Canada between 2009 and 2019 than any other form of electricity generation. Over that period wind energy alone went from scratch to meeting the needs of over three million Canadian homes. Does anyone really believe that only gas can keep the lights on? And the cost of wind energy has fallen 70 per cent in the last nine years,

That this IESO report lacks vision is undeniable. And it is shameful that the body which manages energy supply in Canada’s largest province could produce such a rubbish projection. That is what’s really scary – that the folks in charge of our energy supply haven’t a clue about all the technological progress occurring in renewable sources of energy and energy storage systems. And that the IESO has apparently never heard of global warming.

And even when they decide – or are told to – proclaim gas as Ontario’s future energy source, the IESO picked the wrong gas. They barely mention hydrogen gas, particularly for energy storage to back up wind and solar when the weather is uncooperative. The federal government and the oil and gas industry is pouring vast sums of research money into developing green, and even blue, hydrogen resources. And work is progressing on how to adapt existing pipelines for its safe transmission.

Smog

Burlington and the other municipalities deserve better than the slam dunk, shut down they have been handed by the IESO and the premier. Under the IESO plan, methane to produce electricity will skyrocket from 7% to 30% by 2030. The City of Ottawa has rejected the IESO report and demanded they go back to the drawing board. This will also impact the air quality of people living everywhere in the province, since methane burning also yields significant amounts of smog pollution.

What is really scary about this IESO report is that while most countries are trying to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, the Ontario government is planning a major expansion of its carbon footprint – possibly expanding GHG pollution from the gas plants by more than 300% by 2030.

Even as global leaders sit down to discuss how they can further reduce GHG emissions, Ontario’s premier is thumbing his nose at those efforts. He is swimming against the tide to defy world opinion and federal climate policies. And he is ignoring the will of all the people he claims to represent in this province who, who unlike him, seem to care about the future of this planet.

Ray Rivers, a Gazette Contributing Editor,  writes regularly applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.   Ray has a post graduate degree in economics that he earned at the University of Ottawa.  Tweet @rayzrivers

Background links:

Ontario Coal Phase Out –   Methane Emissions –   IESO Study

Ontario Energy Policies –   Wind Power Cost –  Australia Battery Storage

Climate Change Impacts –   Canada Methane Commitment –  7 Million Deaths

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13 comments to Rivers: A Halloween Scary Story – All Trick and No Treat

  • Joe Gaetan

    Stating Ontario should phase out natural gas electrical production by 2030 makes good copy. Nuclear power and the electricity that comes from Niagara falls provide a dependable base load of electricity for Ontarians. Solar and wind provide electricity when the wind blows and the sun shines. Coal and now gas fired power plants have historically provided the flex in the system when the wind and sun are not cooperating. Practically speaking, short of importing electricity from Quebec we will be stuck with gas to handle the swings for a while. I live in a condominium that has a geothermal system and it is fantastic. We still require natural gas for space heaters and a diesel-powered generator to power our elevators and hallways for short periods of time to handle electricity outages. We have looked into power walls to do the job but so far not so promising.
    So, no mention of Wynne’s foolish sell-off of Hydro One, or McGuinty’s gas-plants-for-seats boondoggle that cost Ontarians $2 billion. Interested in a non-political and more in-depth look at the subject of Climate Change? Try reading Bill Gates, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, where he spells out what he believes the world should focus on to speed up its efforts to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Also, this, https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/oil-and-gas/our-insights/five-things-bill-gates-gets-right-on-energy

  • Ray Rivers

    Phillip – Sorry, but your comment is not accurate – “As of February 2021, 194 states and the European Union have signed the Agreement. 191 states and the EU, representing about 98% of global greenhouse gas emissions, have ratified or acceded to the Agreement, including China and the United States, the countries with the 1st and 2nd largest CO2 emissions among UNFCC members.[12][13][14] All 197 UNFCCC members have either signed or acceded to the Paris Agreement.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_parties_to_the_Paris_Agreement

  • Many of us south of the border have long viewed Canada as an advanced civilization, and that assessment found validity by comparison with our election of Trump.. So how did Ford get elected in the first place?

  • Mike

    It is very tiring to continually hear all of the partisan perspectives on greening of our energy use. There has been no comprehensive plan that I have seen from any of the parties that bears any resemeblance to something that is implementable with costs assigned. In the case of Ontario, this is what we should task the IESO with, as that is / should be part of their role as a non-partisan organization. The plan needs to have objectives set (most parties’ policies platforms have these – pick any set you want) and then define the corresponding changes needed. Note – just removing fossil fuel driven electricity generation doesn’t make a plan.

    This has to include building capacity in the Tx/Dx grids as they are not capable of handling the energy delivery needed when fossils fuel for cars, industry and others switch to electricity, Only about 20% of energy consumption in Canada is from eletricity so these grids need to be enlarged by 4-5 times and include lots of smart capabilities to manage 1000’s of points of generation (versus the traditional <50 sites) and to be able to shunt the GREEN generation power safely when it is not needed which currently costs us $100's millions each year.

    Also, all subsidies currently in the place for electricity for all customers needs to be removed over a few years. I find it surprising that all the talk about having Carbon Taxes doesn't also cover the reality of removing these. Electricity costs have gone up tremendously from the GREEN generation deals in place and everyone needs to see the reality of it. Sure it has improved in cost for new implementations but the existing deals are all 25 year contracts at up to 10X the going price for electricity (to cover the capital investment that was needed). This is a leftover from the Wynne government that is costing us $billions in interest costs that is better deployed to the investment outline below – which is massive.

    Key elements:
    – forecast of electrical power needed by region for the next 30 years
    – GREEN energy increases to offset reduction of fossil fuel based generation and the outgoing and incoming cost per Mwh.
    – increases of energy generation across types (new nuclear, GREEN, hydro) to replace the existing nuclear that will be end of life and shutdown over the next decade and incoming cost per Mwh.
    – increases in energy generalion across types to cover the gap from demand and incoming cost per Mwh to cover the 300 year plan.
    – investments needed in the Tx/Dx grids to provide the capacity needed to move the electricity from generation to consumption and improved control aspects to ensure we no longer have to pay bordering jurisdictions to use our excess power that we cannot properly control.
    – labour strategy and plan to achieve the above since it has been stated that there are not enough trades available to do the work.

    I am sure I have missed something but as I am trying to ouline here, it is time for some adult conversation about this. None of which has happened in any comprehensive way to date that I am aware of.

  • perryb

    Yet another reason why the Ford government must be thrown out next year, starting in Burlington.

  • Larry Pinto

    Well we have an election soon, time to throw the bum out!

  • Philip Waggett

    However Ray, it is possible to produce electricity by using natural gas and still be no carbon emissions as noted in the following article. Of course, it is likely that such technology will still not meet the approval of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (bit of a conflict of interest I think). https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/6/1/17416444/net-power-natural-gas-carbon-air-pollution-allam-cycle

  • Denise W.

    Until you can affect a change in China and India, there is little point to any of this. We will only be hurting ourselves financially for perceived benefits.

    Yes, Canada did make it on the list…..Hmmmm.

    https://www.wri.org/insights/interactive-chart-shows-changes-worlds-top-10-emitters

    https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/each-countrys-share-co2-emissions

    We have no reason to guilt ourselves or apologize.

    • Philip Waggett

      Denise, I appreciate your data to put this “climate crisis” into perspective. As others have noted in response to previous articles on this subject, we should also remember that China–the world’s second largest economy and foremost emitter of carbon emissions will increase its coal consumption by 1 billion tonnes by 2030 as it creates some 300 coal-fired electricity plants; some estimates indicate that the Chinese alone will increase their carbon emissions by at least 3 times Canada’s total emissions. And yet the Chinese are exempt from the Paris Climate Accord. If the Paris Climate Accord was really about a climate crisis, why would the world’s worst polluter be exempt from its provisions? I think it is increasingly obvious to many people that the Paris Climate Accord is benefiting only one country–China, while hampering the economic growth of the other members of the G7, including Canada.

      It is also important to remember that Canada has a cold climate with an economy characterized by long-distance transportation routes. Both of these factors indicate that in the next 20 years, significant reductions in Canada’s small proportion of global carbon emissions can only be achieved by significant negative impacts on the standard of living of Canadians, including a negative impact on economic growth. While the political push to reduce carbon emissions may be an exercise in feel-good virtue-signalling, the reality is that it will not have a significant impact on global emissions and will come at an extremely high price. I believe that the developing energy crisis and its consequent higher energy prices will begin to hit Canadians hard in the wallet and politically may well test Canadians’ resolve to fight carbon emissions.

  • Fred

    The conservative Ford government has done everything to prevent green projects and the fight t combat climate change. He not only is content to kill Ontarians in the short term with his disastrous response to covid, but in the long term with his anti environment ideology. It is time we rid ourselves of the incompetent Ford government.

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