On Thursday, the Premier of Canada’s most populous and second-largest province announced the upcoming closure of its last coal-fired electricity plant. When that happens, there will be no more coal in Ontario.
Over the next year, Ontario’s Thunder Bay Generating Station will be converted to a so-called “advanced” biomass plant, which is not plainly described in Premier Kathleen Wynne’s announcement but seems to describe new ways of breaking down natural material, or biomass, into useable materials for biofuels. While biofuel is generally created using steam explosion — a process in which biomass is treated with hot steam under pressure — advanced biomass uses chemicals like liquid salts or glycerol to pre-treat the natural materials.
The union representing Ontario’s hydro-power workers lauded the announcement, saying advanced biofuels are renewable, carbon-neutral and domestically sourced, therefore good for the economy.
“Europe’s electricity sector has been benefiting from the use of carbon-neutral biomass, much of it imported from Canada, for decades,” Power Workers Union President Don MacKinnon said in a statement. “Ontario’s vast farm and forest sourced biomass — wood wastes, agricultural residues and purpose grown crops — provides our province with a unique energy advantage.”
Premier Wynne’s announcement is part of sweeping climate change regulations proposed in 2009 for Canada’s electricity sector. Under those rules, coal plants would only be able to continue to operate if they produced near-zero greenhouse gas emissions. The rules also set a target of having a 90 percent emission-free electricity sector by 2025.
The phase-out of Thunder Bay and ultimate conversion to the advanced biofuel plant is the last major step in that plan, Premier Wynne said.
“Our work on eliminating coal and investing in renewables is the strongest action being taken in North America to fight climate change,” she said. I believe we can work together as stewards of our natural environment and protect our children, our grandchildren and our fellow citizens.”
Premier Wynne’s announcement said Ontario’s coal-fired power plants were costing its people an estimated $4.4 billion per year in health, environmental, and financial damages, and that the early closure of two of the province’s other coal-fired plants will save electricity customers about $95 million through reduced operating and maintenance costs.
Ontario has a population of approximately 13 million — similar to the state of Illinois, which in 2009 ranked #8 in America for coal production and #2 in the nation for coal use.