Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ontario's Reduced Coal-Fired Generation Explained

The Ontario government recently announced, “Ontario's use of coal-fired power is down 90 per cent in the first three months of 2011, when compared to the same time frame in 2003."  This is good news, which is followed by some questionable claims regarding health impacts, and then the misleading statement that “Ontario is on the right track to building a clean, modern and reliable electricity system using renewable sources of power - like wind and solar.”   Wind and solar don't have much to do with the reduction of coal-fired generation.

In the first 3 months of 2003 Ontario generated 11.8TWh of power with coal1, and for the same 1st quarter period of 2011, it was roughly 10% of that (a little over 1TWh). OPG's reporting tells us coal dropped 2.8TWh between the 1st quarter of 2003 and 2004, “primarily due to the addition of two lower marginal cost nuclear units by Bruce Power at the Bruce A nuclear station that displaced OPG’s higher marginal cost fossil-fueled generation.” I've estimated monthly generation, by source, back to 2004, and have IESO data that is precise on total demand, imports, and exports (and therefore overall production). Not only was the first 25% of the reduction due to nuclear, 2011's first quarter had further nuclear growth of about 3.5TWh over 2004 levels, bringing the total nuclear figure to 6.3TWh, or pretty close to 60% of the amount coal has been reduced.

Ontario consumption in the 1st quarter of 2011 was 3.65TWh below 2003-04 levels. So demand reduction and nuclear could be said to account for 10TWh of the 10.8TWh reduction in coal-fired power (which would match my conclusions in reviewing US EIA data). In Ontario's case, that may be an oversimplification though, because 1st quarter gas-fired generation has also grown since 2004, by about 3.5TWh ... so exports have also grown, by close to the increased gas and wind production.

Pie graphs for 2004 and 2011 might be more communicative:

Another method I've used to illustrate more recent changes is to graph the running 12-month total variance from total 2005 generation figures, and I've included demand reduction (aka NegaWatts). This method is based on OPA business planning that cites actual targets for demand reduction, and recognizes that demand peaked in 2005 not only in Ontario, but also the adjacent jurisdictions of Michigan and New York. I don't agree that reducing electricity demand is, of itself, desirable, but there is no denying the relationship between reduced demand and reduced production from coal until the most recent months, when coal production has simply been replaced with gas production.

I think this displays very clearly that the role of wind and solar in reducing coal is minimal. Many entries on this blog, including the first, lament the loss of any ability to match supply to demand during the period following 2005's peak; a period that has seen market prices dropping in, and around, Ontario. Since 2006 we have seen 10TWh of exports appear - exports sold at prices far below what Ontario's residents, and businesses, pay. Currently the OPA is once again in the process of developing/revising an Integrated Power System Plan (IPSP). Based on where we are, and where we've been, we are headed to more wasteful spending on generation we can't use, except to dump as subsidized exports in far dirtier markets.



  1. This is excellent. Thanks! I was very puzzled by the 90% reduction claim in McGuinty's re-election brochure. Immediately following is an announcement about how many new wind turbines there are. Clearly, even with the increase wind power would not account for a 90% reduction, the the brochure implies this.

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