OPG shuts down 4 coal-fired units ahead of schedule

Ontario's Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure announced today that OPG will close four of the province's coal-fired generating units in 2010, well ahead of the 2014 deadline for phasing out coal. The Ministry describes the closures as "landmark progress on Canada's largest climate change initiative."

The closure could also be described as long awaited progress, as closure of all coal-fired generation was originally promised for 2007.

The 4 units supply about 2,000 MW (or about 6% of the province's installed generation capacity). Some of that supply may no longer have been needed as electricity demand has contracted in recent months. OPG is hoping to convert some or all of the remaining 11 coal-fired units to burn biomass.

Some observers wonder if the move goes far enough. With electricity demand significantly reduced as a result of the recession and hundreds of megawatts of new generation already under development, many environmentalists would like to see more of the coal units closed ahead of the 2014 deadline.

Other observers wonder if the move goes to far. Not everyone supports the closures. Industry analyst Tom Adams believes that coal-fired generation can idle at lower levels and ramp up more quickly than gas-fired generation. Coal may therefore be a better backstop for intermittent power sources like wind and solar.

Phasing out coal is but one part of Ontario's strategy for moving to a more renewable supply mix. Industry stakeholders are waiting anxiously for the government and the OPA to finalized the regulations and feed-in tariff introduced under the Green Energy and Green Economy Act, 2009. The Ministry said that today's announcement "launches Ontario's ten steps to transition the province to electricity generated from green energy which will open investment and opportunities in Ontario's green economy." We are seeking clarification about steps 2 through 10 - stay tuned.