Natural gas generation is replacing coal generation for peak needs but it is also providing backup for intermittent wind and solar generation, which is needed over 70 percent of the time.
In 2011, the electricity output from Ontario’s entire wind fleet dropped below 10 percent of rated capacity 20 times for 24 hours or more and once for 72 hours.
In 2012, wind power accounted for only 3 percent of the electricity generated in the province.
In its document Making Choices-Reviewing Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan the government stated that “over the next decade or so, natural gas could be used as additional base load generation.”
According to Ontario’s Environment Commissioner, even with the coal station closures, Ontario’s ability to meet its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets is being compromised.
Ontario imports 99 percent of the natural gas for residential and business heating, for industrial uses and for electricity generation. Natural gas accounts for approximately one third of Ontario’s primary energy use.
A 2010 study commissioned by the Ontario Energy Board estimated that 30 percent of Ontario’s natural gas supply would be from shale gas by 2030. This growing dependency on imported gas, including environmentally questionable U.S shale gas means higher GHG emissions.
Building more wind and solar generation requires more natural gas generation for backup, which means more GHG emissions.
Based on a full life-cycle analysis, nuclear power emits 16 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour compared to 12 to 46 grams for renewable sources (depending on the type) and 469 grams for natural gas. (Canadian Nuclear Fact Book, 2013.)
A recent analysis by Strategic Policy Economics showed that proceeding with refurbishing Ontario’s nuclear reactors and building two new ones compared to building more wind generation would reduce incremental GHG emissions by 108 million tonnes to 2035, or 80 percent less GHG emissions.
Converting Ontario’s coal generating stations to use renewable, carbon-neutral biomass along with natural gas to generate peak dispatchable (generation that can be turned on or off) electricity can reduce GHG emissions further.
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