The Ontario government recently announced several efforts to increase capacity of the province’s power grid, in anticipation of rapidly increasing demand.
Earlier this month, Doug Ford’s government unveiled Powering Ontario’s Growth, a wide-ranging plan for a “clean energy future,” with investments in less carbon-intensive sources such as nuclear, wind, and solar. It includes plans for a new large-scale nuclear plant at Bruce Power, and three smaller modular reactors at the Darlington Nuclear Plant. There are also new investments in pump storage facilities for wind and solar, in an attempt to make that energy more affordable and widely used.
According to the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator, electricity demand is projected to double in the next few decades, at a time when climate change is causing more frequent and intense weather events that leave the grid at risk.
Anna Kanduth, a research lead at the Canadian Climate Institute, said there’s a lot to like in the plan, given the ongoing shift across many industries from fossil fuel sources to renewable energy. While the diversity of investment in power sources is positive, there are concerns about the lack of clarity for natural gas-fired electricity generation, says Kanduth. In May, the province announced it was soliciting bids for the expansion of some gas-fired plants in Ontario, even though similar plans were scrapped by the previous Liberal government. At the time, energy minister Todd Smith said it was necessary to meet current demand, especially as some nuclear sites were being repaired.
Kanduth said that’s inadvisable, as there’s a risk “gas plants will become stranded assets, especially in light of the federal government’s commitment to achieve net-zero electricity generation by 2035.” To fully reinforce the grid for the future, adapting with newer technologies and investing in under-used sources, such as wind, is a better option, she says.
The reason for increased stress on the power grid has to do with both more homes being built, and the overall “electrification” of everyday life as we move away from fossil fuel sources. In cottage country, power outages are usually caused by downed trees and debris that damage infrastructure. More frequent storms, wildfires, and other climate change-related events coupled with an overstressed power grid could be cause for concern in rural areas.
Overall, Kanduth said diverse energy sources and technology are key to reducing carbon emissions, and ensuring “affordable and reliable” energy in the future.