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Not enough juice? Ontario's electricity supply may fall short of demand if carbon targets are met

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 4/13/2018 8:24:00 AM

To meet its 2030 greenhouse gas emission targets, Ontario will likely have to cut fossil fuel-based energy generation by 45%. Some of that cut will be replaced by efficiency and conservation, but Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dianne Saxe says the province will still need to increase its electrical energy capacity by roughly one-third.

“Ontario should be planning and preparing for that right now. But instead, the government is burying its head in the sand,” Saxe told reporters at the April 10, 2018 release of her “Making Connections: Straight Talk About Electricity in Ontario: 2018 Energy Conservation Progress Report, Volume One”.

A good portion of her 2018 progress report reviews the recent history of energy pricing in Ontario. Consumers have experienced a relatively steep rise in electricity prices over the past 12 years, and Saxe reminded EcoLog News in an interview that more costly electricity is the price Ontarians have paid for clean air and reliable service. In 2005, before the province’s coal-fired generating plants were closed, Ontario experienced 53 smog days. In 2017, it had none.

That’s the past. As to the next dozen years, the province may be headed toward a moment where once again, domestic electricity supply will not be sufficient to meet demand. “Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan 2017: Delivering Fairness and Choice” is based on the assumption that the low carbon transformation will not occur, Saxe said at the April 10, 2018 press conference. It assumes flat demand.

A cynical reading of Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan 2017 would suggest that the Ministry of Energy is betting that the province will not meet is 2030 targets and, based on current policies and trends, that may not be a bad bet. The 2018 progress report notes that the energy plan does contemplate a significant (but not sufficient) electrification in parts of the transportation sector, but it does not contemplate any significant electrification of water and space heating. Right now, only 16% of homes are heated by electricity.

Current natural gas prices are at historic lows, Saxe notes, and carbon pricing will add to its cost, but it will still leave a wide gap between the cost of gas and the cost of electricity as a source for space heating. There are opportunities to reduce space heating consumption, but those opportunities are easier and most cost-effective in new construction. Much more has to be done to encourage conservation and the conversion to electric heating in existing buildings. And if that happens, the province has to begin preparing now for a big increase in demand over the next dozen years.

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