CLEANING UP COAL COST-EFFECTIVE OPTION
Simcoe reformer: Winston Sardine - July 21, 2009
It is said that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
This certainly applies to some comments and opinions expressed in our local newspapers re: the proposed nuclear plant for this area, OPG Nanticoke and its future, the two proposed natural gas plants and the onslaught of wind-powered complexes all across Ontario.
It most assuredly applies to the facts regarding coal-fired generation and the way its use has been vilified over the past six years by Queen's Park.
Simple mathematics suggests that replacing coal will require that gas be used in its place for power generation. This is a given.
The problem, as I see it, is that due to the characteristics of most gas-fired plants Ontario's CO2 emissions will rise not fall as most people may think. If you are concerned with CO2 levels, as the government says we all should be, isn't this an important fact worth considering?
In 2003 the McGuinty government decided to demonize and close our coal-fired stations with claims that the pollution and smog they created were causing hundreds of deaths every year here in Ontario.
When this "health concern" was shown to be a sham (50% of Toronto's pollution comes from the United States, then add to this the massive transportation and ground-level emissions from the GTA itself), the McGuinty government shifted its propaganda from a health issue to the environment.
The reality is that modern scrubbers allow coal-fired power without any significant contribution to smog and lethal levels of contaminants. What has been lacking is the will by the current government to spend a few million dollars to clean up our very efficient and affordable coal plants, including Nanticoke OPG.
Why is this significant and why should we care? When one considers the huge push by our government to "go green" and to focus on conservation and wind power to save us all, sometimes the facts are overlooked.
For example, coal-fired units emit greenhouse gases at a much lower rate than Ontario's gas-fired plants when they are used to provide support for wind generated power.
Coal plants can operate at very low power (as low as 20% ) and then ramp up quickly to full power when needed to keep the grid system in balance.
Contrast this with the fact that gas-fired units have much higher standards of operation (60% of power is necessary at a minimum) in order to match the efficiency of their coal-fired cousins.
This means they use about twice as much capacity as coal and they create about four times as much CO2 as coal-fired facilities in their support of wind-powered generation and the inherent fluctuations of the weather.
Where's the benefit to the taxpayer or the environment if thousands of wind turbines need constant back-up from gas plants to keep the electrical grid functioning properly?
Demonizing coal makes for lovely voter-rich urban-targeted sound-bites and may be effective political propaganda, however it overlooks the actual factors that determines the environmental performance of our Ontario power system.
In this day of economic uncertainty wouldn't it be more prudent to retain and utilize a mixed armada of energy-producing components, including nuclear, hydro, coal, gas, wind, solar and photovoltaic to meet our electricity needs at prices we can all afford.
With the nuclear build controversy and associated costs a hot item for many people, perhaps the price of cleaning up our reliable coal plants doesn't seem so bad now.