Ontario Power suspends Thunder Bay coal-to-gas conversion

Due to short-term power reliability concerns, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) said Nov. 1 that it is suspending further work on the Thunder Bay Generating Station coal-to-gas conversion pending a review by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) of electricity needs in northwestern Ontario.

“The OPA, the province’s supply planning arm, has informed OPG it needs time to explore other options for electricity supply in the northwest part of the province,” the utility said. “When the OPA is ready to proceed, OPG will provide its best option for consideration at that time.”

OPG’s work to date reflected direction of the Long-Term Energy Plan and a government directive to the OPA, the utility added. OPG said it continues to explore repowering options at Thunder Bay and at its other coal-fired plants. “The suspension of this project will not impact current operations,” OPG said.

The province wants to phase out all coal-fired generation by the end of 2014 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. OPG recently started converting its Atikokan coal plant to biomass as part of that program.

The Thunder Bay plant is located in the city of Thunder Bay. Its two operating coal-fueled generators produce up to 306 MW, using low-sulfur Powder River Basin sub-bituminous coal, said the OPG website. In the past decade, Thunder Bay’s annual electricity production has been as high as 1 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh). More recently, due to economic downturn, Thunder Bay’s role has changed to providing reliability during peak demand times and back up electricity generation when other sources are not available.

Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan, announced by the Minister of Energy in November 2010, proposed that Thunder Bay be converted to natural gas. Union Gas is responsible for, and proceeding with, natural gas pipeline studies and associated communications and approvals for potential conversion of Thunder Bay, said the OPG website. OPG is assessing plant modifications required for operation on natural gas and, potentially, biomass at some time in the more distant future.

That 2010 provincial plan said about Thunder Bay: “The Thunder Bay plant is needed not only for local supply to the city of Thunder Bay, but for system reliability in northwestern Ontario, particularly during periods of low hydroelectric generation and until the proposed enhancement to the East-West tie enters operation. The government will work with suppliers on the planning process to convert the Thunder Bay units.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.