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Ontario Overrules Cities to Push Gas Plant Expansions

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Mitchell Beer's picture
Publisher and Managing Editor, Energy Mix Productions Inc.

I’m publisher of The Energy Mix, an e-digest and online archive on energy, climate, and the shift to a post-carbon economy. Also president of Smarter Shift, an Ottawa-based firm that specializes...

  • Member since 2018
  • 43 items added with 13,604 views
  • May 22, 2023

Ontario is pushing ahead with contracts to increase natural gas use and climate pollution in cities that have already declared their opposition to gas plant expansions, despite independent research showing how the province could clear its looming electricity shortfall with renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Last week, the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) announced plans to procure 586 megawatts of new natural gas-fired power production by expanding the capacity [pdf] of existing gas plants in Toronto, Halton Hills, Brampton, and Thorold. The IESO said it would also contract for 739 MW of new storage capacity from seven projects [pdf], most of them involving partnerships with Indigenous communities, ranging in size from five to 300 MW.

The announcement flies in the face of mounting local opposition to gas plant expansions, with resolutions from elected councils in 34 Ontario communities endorsing a gas power phaseout. Of the four locations on the IESO’s list, all but Thorold have gas phaseout motions on the books, and Brampton specifically opted for battery storage over more gas.

The grid operator’s hand is being guided, and its hands may have been tied, by a December 23, 2022 letter [pdf] from Energy Minister Todd Smith to IESO President and CEO Lesley Gallinger, stressing that “new-build energy projects” must only proceed with official local backing. “I have heard from multiple municipal councils and other stakeholders that they would like the IESO to be explicit that municipal council support is required for the approval of projects proposed on sites that are located within their boundaries,” Smith wrote. “Our government has been fully supportive of this stance.”

But that language only applies to new infrastructure—for this initial procurement, the seven battery projects—not to changes to existing installations, The Energy Mix has learned. So the procurement rules could end up disqualifying battery storage projects that would help stabilize the grid and open the door to more renewable energy capacity, while requiring only perfunctory community consultation for gas plant expansions that drive up climate pollution.

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