By ANGELA BISCHOFF
DIRECTOR, ONTARIO CLEAN AIR ALLIANCE
The middle of a climate crisis is a strange time to be expanding a major gas-fired power plant on the Toronto waterfront, but that is exactly what Premier Doug Ford’s provincial government is planning to do with the Portlands gas plant.
The plant’s owner, publicly owned Ontario Power Generation (OPG), is preparing to profit from the province’s poor energy planning by ramping up usage and expanding the plant by 50 megawatts to fill the gap left by the shutdown of aging nuclear reactors, and the Ford government’s tearing up of more than 750 renewable energy contracts.
Even though Toronto City Council has said “no” to more gas burning at Portlands twice, Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith has failed to follow through on his promise to respect municipal wishes when it comes to expanding or building new gas plants. As usual, the Ford government simply doesn’t care what the people of Toronto think.
In fact, the province is set on increasing gas burning in Ontario by 500 per cent by 2035, including by firing up the Portlands more often, and making it capable of burning more gas. By abandoning all efforts to increase renewable energy production, slashing energy efficiency budgets and ignoring the implications of climate change, the Ford government has created the perfect conditions for a huge surge in fossil gas burning right on our waterfront.
The Portlands gas plant is already the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the City of Toronto, and the largest source of nitrous oxides that help create smog. The city’s ambitious climate plan – TransformTO – does not support more gas burning at the Portlands plant.
Toronto’s efforts to help businesses and city residents reduce their carbon footprint will be swamped by a massive increase in gas burning at the Portlands plant. So while the city and its residents work hard to do the right thing for our climate, the province and OPG are pulling in the opposite direction – doing everything in their power to make climate change worse.
Meanwhile, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) is sitting on a report that it commissioned that shows that there is no need for new or expanded gas plants. The Dunsky Report explains in detail how Ontario can forego more gas burning by embracing rooftop solar; load controls that shift electricity demand from peak to off-peak periods; stationary batteries; and bi-directional chargers that allow our electric vehicles’ batteries to provide power back to the grid during peak demand hours.
And a report just out from the RBC Climate Action Institute makes much the same point: Ontario can save at least $500 million by embracing smart thermostats and AI-enhanced HVAC systems instead of expanding Portlands or building new gas plants. This is a report from the bank that is Canada’s biggest lender to the fossil fuel industry, not something issued by environmental organizations!
The fact that the Portlands gas plant is used most often on hot summer days when air quality is at its worse just adds insult to injury. Burning gas to meet peak demand is, of course, a completely outdated solution, as both Dunksy and RBC point out in their reports. We can also avoid the need to burn gas to meet our electricity needs during hot summer days by importing waterpower from Quebec. While Ontario’s demand for electricity peaks during hot summer days when our air-conditioners are running full out, Quebec’s demand for electricity peaks during cold winter nights. As a result, Hydro Quebec has a huge surplus of hydro-electric generation capacity available for export during the summer.
Our federal government could stop this backwards plan for more gas burning with a stroke of its pen. The feds are about to release their Clean Electricity Regulations (CERs), which are to be the mechanism for delivering on their promise to create a zero-carbon electricity system across Canada by 2035.
We are calling for strong CERs which will prohibit increasing gas-fired generation capacity in Ontario effective immediately; and require Ontario to move to a net zero-carbon grid by 2030. The Trudeau government can finally trigger effective climate action with strong regulations that stop the Portlands expansion and set the stage for its phase out – and a climate-safe future.
Community forum on Portlands gas plant plan set for night of July 12
A community forum co-hosted by the Ontario Clean Air Alliance is set for Wednesday, July 12, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Ralph Thornton Community Centre, 765 Queen St. E., regarding the province’s plans to expand the Portlands Energy Centre on Unwin Avenue.
Other groups co-hosting the forum are ClimateFast, The Pocket Change Project, For Our Kids Toronto, Toronto350, Ontario Climate Emergency Campaign, Toronto East End Climate Collective, and Environmental Defence.
Confirmed speakers at the forum are Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns, Beaches-East York MPP Mary-Margaret McMahon, and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner. To register for the meeting, please go to https://www.cleanairalliance.org/show-your-opposition-to-climate-wrecking-fossil-gas-power/
East Toronto residents are encouraged to attend the forum in person or online by livestream through the Ontario Clean Air Alliance’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CleanAirAlliance/