More gas for Ottawa?

By Cecile Wilson

CO2 for 24th September 2023: 418.01 ppm

A stroll around the Glebe reveals that many residents have taken steps to transition to low-carbon energy practices. Several homes have solar panels on their roofs. Heat pumps might be a little harder to identify, but they too are in evidence. The number of green license plates indicating fully electric and plug-in hybrid cars has multiplied over the past few years. And of course, Glebites often walk or bike to their destinations – two of the lowest carbon ways to get around.

Electrification of heating, cooling and transportation is significant because buildings and transportation are the top two sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the city and the two largest energy consumers. However, for electrification to be most effective at lowering emissions and reducing impacts on climate, it is crucial that the electricity is generated from a clean power source.


Electricity is only as clean as its source

Currently, most electric power in Ontario comes from nuclear and hydro, which are both considered clean sources because of their relatively low carbon emissions. According to data from Hydro One, in 2022 nuclear energy accounted for 51 per cent of Ontario’s electricity, hydro 25.1 per cent, natural gas 10.2 per cent, wind 9.9 per cent, solar 2.5 per cent, non-contracted fuel (i.e., a variety of fuel types that are unidentified by local distribution companies) 0.9 per cent and bioenergy 0.4 per cent.

Doug Ford’s government, however, wants to increase the amount of gas-fired electricity in the mix by 500 per cent by 2035 through the construction of new gas plants and the expansion of existing ones. As Ottawa has a gas plant, we are on the list as a potential site for an expansion.

The Ottawa gas plant was commissioned in 1992 and is located not far from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario on the Ring Road surrounding the General Hospital complex. The facility is a cogeneration plant, which means that in addition to generating electricity from natural gas, it also captures the heat generated when the electricity is produced. This type of system is also referred to as Combined Heat and Power (CHP). The plant produces 74 megawatts of power and is owned fifty-fifty by TransAlta and Canadian Power Holdings Inc.

According to the TransAlta web page on the plant, the facility supplies steam and hot water as well as cold water to a number of institutions on the hospital campus. The plant also supplies electricity to the grid under contract with the Ontario Power Authority. The most recent contract extends until 2034.

In 2009, TransAlta installed a gas turbine at the plant. The turbine lowered the emissions intensity by six per cent. This means that the amount of CO2 produced per unit of energy produced decreased by six per cent. However, production increased by nine per cent, resulting in a small rise in total emissions.


Persistent problems

Although cogeneration is more efficient than standard gas-fired electricity operations because it makes use of the heat produced as a by-product, there are still problems with expanding a cogeneration plant. First, expanded operations would burn more gas, which would increase emissions.

Second, “natural” gas is essentially methane, which is at least 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas during its first 20 years in the atmosphere than is carbon dioxide. This would deliver a double whammy to climate stability – more potent emissions and more of them.

Third, there are other pollutants produced by gas plants. In addition to methane and carbon dioxide, these pollutants include nitrous and sulfur dioxides, particulate matter and small amounts of mercury. These substances can contribute to smog and to the development of cancer, cardiovascular disease and respiratory problems.

To add insult to injury, two recent reports have concluded that these extra gas plants are not needed. One, the Dunsky report commissioned by the Independent Electricity System Operator, stated that we could meet our electricity needs by boosting rooftop solar, shifting demand from peak to off-peak periods, making more use of battery storage and allowing bi-directional chargers for electric vehicles so that they could return power to the grid during peak demand times.

While many Glebe residents are taking measures to slow the types of climate disasters we have witnessed this summer, we need to ensure we have clean electricity in Ontario to make the most progress.

For more information on gas plants in Ontario, check out the Ontario Clean Air Alliance and the Ontario Climate Emergency Campaign.


Cecile Wilson has lived in the Glebe for 22 years and is fond of walking.

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