Ontario minister fingers natural gas as a growing GHG problem

Ontario Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller issued a June 5 report that said the Canadian province is making progress on climate change, in part due to the ongoing shutdown of its coal-fired power plants, but that natural gas-fired power is becoming an increasing problem.

Miller said the government’s long-term energy policy could wipe out some of the gains that have been made in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Miller released “Failing our Future,” his 2013 annual report on the progress made in working towards the GHG reduction targets outlined in the government’s Climate Change Action Plan.

In its 2007 Climate Change Action Plan, the Ontario government established three targets for the reduction of GHGs.

  • 6% below 1990 levels by 2014 (to approximately 166 megatonnes or MT);
  • 15% below 1990 levels by 2020 (to approximately 150 Mt); and
  • 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 (to approximately 35 Mt).

“The government is on track to meet 91% of its 2014 target, but I am worried about what comes after 2014,” said Miller. Failing our Future highlights that the Ontario government will only achieve 60% of the reductions necessary to meet its 2020 target for reducing GHG emissions.

“One of the reasons for this shortfall,” said Miller, “is the increased reliance on natural gas to generate electricity.”

According to the Ontario Power Authority (OPA), natural gas is expected to play an important role in meeting electricity demand in the future, especially when nuclear plants are refurbished in and around 2020 and 2021.

“This increased use of natural gas could lead to a rise in GHG emissions of between 4 and 16 Mt, depending on factors such as the existing generation capacity and weather,” said Miller. “I think the government should use the recently announced review of its Long-Term Energy Plan to make sure its energy planning is co-ordinated with the GHG reduction targets that are contained in its Climate Change Action Plan.”

Said the report: “One troubling aspect of the non-utility generation in Ontario is that much of the electricity is generated during periods when it is not needed. The power purchase agreements of many of these generators allow them to sell to the grid at their discretion. So, during periods of surplus baseload generation we are often unnecessarily producing about 1,000 MW of non-utility gas-fired generation with the ensuing GHG emissions.”

Between 2010 and 2011, emissions associated with coal use dropped by nearly two-thirds, from 12.1 Mt to 4.1 Mt, the report added. Ontario Power Generation will stop burning coal at two of its largest coal-fired  plants – Nanticoke and Lambton – by the end of December 2013 (a year ahead of schedule).

“The phase out of coal-fired generation puts the electricity sector on track to achieve the emissions reductions envisaged in Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) over the short term,” the report noted. “However, the most recent [National Inventory Report] NIR data show that emissions from burning natural gas for utility electricity generation have increased by nearly 44 per cent (from 7.4 Mt to 10.6 Mt) between 2010 and 2011. According to the Ontario Power Authority (OPA), gas generation will serve as a swing resource going forward and will play a large role in maintaining the balance between supply and demand, especially during the period of nuclear plant refurbishment expected around 2020/21.”

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.