June 5, 2009

Energy Efficiency cheapest way to replace Ontario’s aging nuclear power

Jim Harris

By: Jordana Levine

Energy efficiency, renewable energy and co-generation alternatives provide cheaper, more secure, and less wasteful forms of electricity generation than nuclear, concludes a new report, Powerful Options: A review of Ontario’s options for replacing aging nuclear plants. Increased funding for electric utilities’ energy efficiency programs, establishing fees for natural gas-fired combined heat and power (CHP) and making long-term electricity supply agreements with Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador would all provide the power Ontario needs in the future as aging nuclear plants are phased out. The research report by the Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA) was released in May 2009.

By 2021, 47 percent of Ontario’s nuclear power will be gone because the generators will be past their service life.  That means 60.4 billion kWh of nuclear power will need to be replaced. The Government of Ontario plans to sign a contract to build two nuclear reactors at the Darlington Nuclear Station east of Oshawa.  The report points out that conservation and efficiency would cost only 2.7 cents per kWh and, if the power authority was to aggressively promote efficiency — demand for electricity will fall by 28.6 billion kWh between 2008 and 2021.

The OCAA doesn’t support replacing old nuclear reactors with new ones, and recommends that, instead, the provincial government require the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) to get serious about energy efficiency (EE), renewable energy (RE) and co-generation.

The construction of new nuclear generators costs more than any of the five other options that the OCAA gives for how to maintain Ontario’s power supply when the old generators die.  It costs at least 15.1 cents US per kWh (or 18 cents Canadian as of May 2009).  It also has a history of higher-than-projected costs, quickly aging equipment and unexpected errors.  Overall, nuclear power is suggested to be the least reliable option.

The replacement options that the OCAA gives are:
•    Conservation and efficiency to reduce need for electricity
•    Wind power
•    Natural gas-fired CHP (combined heat and power)
•    Renewable electricity imports from Quebec
•    Hydro-electricity imports from Labrador

In terms of wind power, Ontario’s onshore potential alone is 11 times as much as Ontario’s electricity consumption each year, meaning it could easily cover all of the lost nuclear power.  Also, even though the power is intermittent, Ontario and Quebec could join forces and share excess generation at times when winds are mild in some areas.  At the 2010 rates, Quebec could replace 40 percent of the lost power from nuclear at only 9 cents per kWh.  Labrador could also contribute 28 percent of Ontario’s lost power in 2021 for the same price.

Natural gas-fired CHP, although it can emit more greenhouse gases than nuclear power plants, has an efficiency of 80 to 90 percent versus a nuclear reactor’s efficiency of 33 percent because it uses the same molecules of gas to produce heat and electricity at the same time.  Natural gas-fired CHP could supply 100% of the lost power from nuclear for a mere six cents per kWh.

Ontario will have phased out almost all coal by January 2010, accomplishing the largest greenhouse gas reduction initiative in North America.  The phase-out is the equivalent of taking nearly seven million cars off the road.  The next step is figuring out how to replace nuclear power to make the air even cleaner.

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