E – Electricity Alternatives for Ontario


This page is based on an article of mine that was published in the Wellington Times on October 22, 2008. It shows how Ontario could be free of both coal and nuclear generation of electricity by 2020.

The intended audience is Ontarians, but the analysis should be of interest to those in any other country, state or province. In particular, note the important impact of conservation programs, which is the only really effective measure in reducing dependence on fossil fuel and CO2 emissions with no attendant environmental issues.

Electricity Alternatives for Ontario

What are the possible alternatives for electricity generation in Ontario? Fortunately we have three very different scenarios (plus a fourth, mine) that provide a range of choices for consideration.

As a starting point, there is the Ontario Power Authority’s Integrated Power Supply Plan (OPA IPSP) that projects to 2027. It provides for the elimination of coal plants by 2015. The OPA (My View) columns in all tables are based on my original calculations for the OPA production mix. The main differences between mine and the OPA is the distribution between conservation and nuclear.

We also have projections from the Pembina Institute and Torrie Smith Associates, both authoritative Canadian organizations in this field. Pembina is based in Alberta and Torrie Smith in Ontario. The predominant attraction of these two is the elimination of all nuclear plants as well as the coal plants. Despite being made a few years earlier than that for the OPA’s IPSP, their projections contain very important options. The following comparison is for the year 2020, which is as far as these two organizations project. The percentages shown are of total production for electricity (MWh), at the point of generation, after naturally occurring efficiency gains (that is without any major government conservation initiatives and representing about 6 per cent), and therefore before more aggressive conservation programs.

Table 1 – Percent of Energy Production (MWh) for Three Scenarios

Percent of Production 2020

Pembina Institute



(My View)

Torrie Smith Associates

Conservation Programs















Cogeneration, biomass and solar










Hydro (within Ontario)










The main observations are:

The higher reliance on conservation (40 per cent level) is an admirable target, but if not achieved in time, contains the risk of supply shortfalls. There has to be a fall-back strategy, which is not provided for in the Pembina and Torrie Smith plans. More aggressive targets are appropriate, and it appears that after considering California’s experience, our Minister of Energy, Smitherman, wants the OPA to review its conservation targets. Achievement of higher conservation targets within the OPA plan would reduce our dependence on nuclear production, so in this case, these are also contingency facilities. This is what My View represents. Further, Smitherman has directed the OPA to tweak the renewable energy components, as solar, biomass and cogeneration look like they are underperforming. These applications are largely small individual and community installations, and along with small scale wind could be a worthwhile focus. However, because of high costs, they would need appropriate government financial incentives. It remains to be seen if the mistake of increasing industrial wind will be made.

Relying so heavily on another province for a significant portion of our vital electricity supply, as Torrie Smith does, also has risks, including political risk. Although theoretically possible and highly desirable, this would be a courageous strategy in the light of many other examples of inter-provincial relations. Strong federal intervention might be required for this to be successful, but it may be overly optimistic to expect this.

The ability of wind to make the contributions in three of the plans depends on simplistic, unrealistic and aggressive performance assumptions for wind plants. My View contains more realistic performance assumptions. However, shortfall in this area can be absorbed by increasing production in others – gas and nuclear for the OPA, gas for Pembina, and gas and imports for Torrie Smith. Further, with some adjustments (Pembina having the most difficulty), all wind could be removed from these portfolios without adverse impacts.

The following table provides the CO2 emissions that would result for these three scenarios compared to 2008. These numbers include a realistic assessment of the configuration and performance of the necessary gas plant shadowing backup for wind.

Table 2 – CO2 Emissions for Each Scenario

Million Tons of CO2 per year



Pembina 2020




(My View)


Torrie Smith 2020

CO2 Emissions






The Pembina emissions are significantly higher because of its heavy dependence on gas plants. In its study it accepts the consequences of the use of lower emissions gas plants (over 50 per cent less emissions than coal plants) as a bridge to a “future” total renewables portfolio. The emissions for the OPA scenario are about 9 million tons of CO2 – higher than 2015 due to the increased wind component and the resulting additional gas production inefficiencies.

A comparison of the annual costs for 2020 is as follows.

Table 3 – Cost Comparisons for Each Scenario

For the Year 2020

Pembina Institute



(My View)

Torrie Smith

Annual costs

$8.9 billion

$8.4 billion

$8.4 billion

$7.7 billion

Some specific comments on these costs are:

There is another major difference among these scenarios. Pembina, Torrie Smith and My View are basically theoretical paper studies, which make the important contribution of showing the impacts of other strategies. The OPA plan has to face the reality of actually delivering adequate, reliable electricity over the next 12-20 years.

Again, there is some play in all these numbers, but pushing any of the considerations around will not materially affect the outcome, and robust conclusions can be drawn.

Chose your preferred option and write your MPP.


In all scenarios, the wind percentage penetration is at the maximum that electricity systems can manage (OPA, My View and Torrie Smith) or above it (Pembina). The management problem is due to wind’s unpredictable and unreliable nature. Wind output is random, with frequent and sometimes very large fluctuations over the full range of its capacity, especially at its highest production times. Further, when wind’s random fluctuations are netted against the more predictable demand variations, the range that the shadowing backup capacity has to mirror is larger than each taken alone. Increasing wind capacity beyond the 5 per cent levels for domestic use is not practically possible. In the range of 2- 5 per cent problems start to occur. Denmark, an early adopter of industrial-scale wind power, mistakenly did this and must dump most of its wind production to its larger neighbours, Norway, Sweden and Germany.

One observation is that increasing dependence on gas will carry with it higher CO2 emissions. At the wind penetration percentages shown in all three scenarios, almost equal shadowing backup capacity will be required. This will typically be gas turbine with greater emphasis on Simple Cycle Gas Turbines (SCGT in Canada and called Open Cycle Gas Turbine, OCGT in Europe). SCGT is the more responsive, but less efficient in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, than the preferred gas turbine type, Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT).

My recommendation is to stop further implementation of industrial wind plants, especially offshore. Concerns about manufacturing jobs would be more soundly directed to solar and other renewable energy generation means, as Germany is now doing. In the not so distant future the folly of industrial wind power and creating a manufacturing base on wind turbines will become evident. It appears to be an ironic characteristic of wind that stronger wind regimes bring with them more costs and operational problems. This will be dealt with in a future page on offshore wind.

If the objective is adequate and reliable electricity systems with the most impact against climate change, the only viable approach is a combination of conservation and nuclear. To eliminate nuclear plants, even with the attendant other considerations put forward by Pembina and Torrie Smith, very aggressive conservation will have to be practised.

In all cases remember to take into account the time frames described on the “About” page.

Last updated November 27, 2008

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