Ontario’s electricity is about to become a lot dirtier – what can we do to stop it?

We don’t have much time left to reduce our emissions and halt the climate crisis. Thankfully, Ontario’s power sector has had a head start. In 2019, 92% of the electricity that came out of our province’s sockets came from zero-carbon sources.

However, emissions from electricity have since been creeping up and are now threatening to grow dramatically if the Ford government pushes through its plans. (Photo by Siarhei Kuchuk from pexels.com)

Ontario may soon face a shortage in its electricity generation. Most of Ontario’s electricity comes from three large nuclear plants. One of these, the generating station in Pickering, is set to close in 2026.

At the same time, demand for electricity in Ontario is rapidly increasing. With a growing population and more of our energy use shifting to electricity (such as electric cars), we will need even more clean power in the coming decades.

This is a gap that the provincial government could have seen coming. In an ideal world, the government would have made real investments in new wind and solar projects as soon as Pickering’s best-by date came near. Instead, Doug Ford is now trying to bridge the gap with high-emissions fossil fuels.

To meet electricity demand, the Ford government and the electricity system operator IESO plan to increase the electricity production of existing fossil gas plants and to open new fossil gas plants. With their plans, fossil gas plants would make up 19% of the electricity mix by 2030 and almost a quarter by 2040. This would turn Ontario’s electricity from a relatively clean mix to a dirty one – a move in the exact opposite direction we should be going. The IESO itself estimates that the plans would increase greenhouse gas emissions sixfold by 2040 compared to 2017.

And these expensive, long-term investments are happening while the federal government has promised to bring electricity emissions across the country down to zero by 2035. Investing in gas plants now will lock in fossil fuel infrastructure and leave us on the hook to pay for them for decades.

Increased greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming and increased natural disasters and will affect all of us. But the gas plants in Ontario will also affect people living in the area directly. Fossil fuel power plants emit many different local pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. These are best known as the gasses that cause acid rain, but they are also linked to higher levels of asthma and other health issues in people (especially children) living close to power plants. One of the plants that may be ramped up is the Portlands Energy Centre at the waterfront in Toronto, directly affecting communities that live in the southeast of our city.

On top of worsening climate risks, Doug Ford’s plans are not doing ratepayers any favors either. Wind power is already cheaper than fossil gas power and is expected to come down in price even more by the end of the decade.

Building out wind and solar power will take a few years, but while more wind and solar power projects are being built, we can make use of cheap and reliable hydropower imported from Québec to fill the gap.

Securing emissions-free electricity for all of Ontario is not only possible, it is necessary. We are in the middle of the most important decade for climate action, and we cannot afford to take steps in the wrong direction.

Some Ontario-based environmental organizations have already started taking action to make Doug Ford and the federal government see that fossil gas is not the way to go. By supporting their initiatives, you can help make Ontario’s electricity emissions-free.

The Ontario Clean Air Alliance is pushing for the federal government to pass strong Clean Energy Regulations (CER) to stop building new fossil gas plants and phase out existing plants by 2030.

You can send a letter to your MP, MPP, or local politicians to support this effort: find out more here.

If you want to learn more about the issue and consider advocating against it, you can also come to an online advocacy workshop on April 5th organized by the Ontario Climate Emergency Campaign, the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, and Citizens’ Climate Lobby Ontario.

More information and how to get involved:

Beyond Gas Backgrounder
Beyond Gas Information Toolkit