Ontario, our friendly neighbor to the north, will soon phase out all of its coal-burning power plants. The last two generators, up the North Shore in Thunder Bay, are set to close next year.
The province faced the same challenges that should sound familiar to us here: communities worrying about job losses and industries worrying about having enough power. So how did they do it?
Yale’s Environment 360 reports:
The transition away from coal also was helped by political and economic circumstances. Unlike the U.S., where miners, producers, truckers, railroads, and utilities form strong regional coal alliances, coal-fired power in Ontario had no other influential political constituencies.
OK, so there’s the politics of it in a nut shell. Here’s the economics of it:
Most of the coal-fired generators were also closed as the U.S. economic meltdown engulfed Ontario’s auto manufacturing sector, North America’s largest producer of vehicles and parts, and one of Ontario’s biggest power consumers. The demand for electricity fell in Ontario, a market that was producing over 35,000 megawatts of generating capacity.
Nuclear has largely taken the place of coal in the province — it now makes up 56 percent of Ontario’s electrical power. Hydropower is responsible for another 22 percent. The region’s air quality has improved as a result.
Overall, mean particulate concentrations in the province’s air fell from 8.1 micrograms per cubic meter in 2003 to 4.8 micrograms per cubic meter in 2010, a 40 percent decline.
How are we doing in Minnesota? A dozen coal plants are being retired or are switching to natural gas by 2016, but the Star Tribune reported in February that the plants are small and account for just 3 percent of the state’s emissions of carbon dioxide:
When the smaller coal plants from Hoyt Lakes to Burnsville to Rochester are gone, Minnesota electric customers still will be getting a major share of their power from a fleet of larger, newer coal plants that utilities plan to keep operating.
Still though, while coal in Minnesota isn’t going away anytime soon, utilities here are diversifying with wind, solar and natural gas, the newspaper reported.