Power Workers' Union concerned about OPG closures

September 09, 2009
Sep. 9, 2009, Toronto - The Ontario government has announced that it will close two of the eight 500-MW coal-fuelled units at Ontario Power Generation's (OPG) Nanticoke Generating Station on Lake Erie and two of the four 500-MW coal units at OPG's Lambton Generating Station near Sarnia.

"These plants have been providing Ontario with reliable, safe, and affordable electricity for decades," says Don MacKinnon, president of the Power Workers' Union (PWU). "Ontario has decided to close these plants in favour of building more natural gas plants and increasing imports of electricity from coal plants in the United States. We are very concerned that closing Ontario's coal stations will negatively impact energy security, reliability, and the price of electricity, as well as the price of natural gas for home heating."

The Power Workers' Union has been working with industry stakeholders to create a "made in Ontario" alternative using biomass pellets made from wood and agricultural waste to fuel and/or co-fuel these generators. Biomass is the most widely used source of renewable electricity generation in Europe. Biomass-fuelled electricity production, unlike wind and solar, is available on demand.

For countries like Canada, with huge biomass resources, there are additional benefits. The production of fuel from biomass can strengthen Ontario's troubled forest and agricultural industries. First Nations could be valued participants in the supply chain.

According to Tom Adams, industry watchdog, "To maintain reliability in the event of a rapid drop in wind, grid operators need generators able to quickly take up the slack. Coal power emits greenhouse gases at a much lower rate rather than Ontario's new mid-efficiency gas-fired generating units while providing essential reliability support for wind generation during high wind periods. Ontario's coal power stations are good at riding along at low power, often at 20% of full power, ready to quickly ramp up to full power when needed. However, our new gas plants have much higher minimum production requirements, typically  about 60% of full power. To match the upward generation flexibility of one large coal generator, about twice as much gas-fired generation capacity is required, and four times as much carbon dioxide is emitted from the gas generators standing by to support wind power compared with coal generators doing the same job. For a 500-MW coal generator at 20% power or 100 MW, the carbon dioxide emission rate is typically about 100 t/h while providing 400 MW of up ramp potential. To get the same 400 MW of up ramp potential, about 1000 MW of gas combined-cycle units are required, putting out 600 MW and emitting at a rate of approximately 400 t/hr."

MacKinnon added, "At this time, we do not know the extent of the impact on the hundreds of employees at the two locations. It will take some time to work out all the details with OPG before we can fully assess the effect on our members and the economies of the host communities. We find this frustrating, to say the least. We need better solutions that will strengthen Ontario's energy security and economy while truly addressing climate change. Closing these valuable facilities to become more reliant on more expensive natural gas and imported coal power from the United States is not the answer."

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