If the province of Ontario has its way, 2014 will be the last year that coal will be burned in its plants. Ever.
Last week, the premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, announced the closure of three of the province’s coal-burning facilities: the Lambton and Atikokan, which have already ceased operation and the Nanticoke Generating Station, which is expected to follow. The Nanticoke is the largest of its kind in North America.
The closures are all part of a systematic conversion to biomass energy, and what Ontario terms as its “commitment to end climate change.” A significant push for that effort will come from the introduction of the Ending Coal for Cleaner Air Act, which will essentially outlaw the use of coal for power generation.
“Our work on eliminating coal and investing in renewables is the strongest action being taken in North America to fight climate change,” Wynne said. “I believe we can work together as stewards of our natural environment and protect our children, our grandchildren and our fellow citizens.”
Wynne made the announcement at the MaRs Discovery Center in Toronto, Ont. MaRs is a not-for-profit corporation that works to incentivize publicly funded technologies through public-private partnerships and other types of investment.
Former Vice President and Chair of the Climate Reality Project, Al Gore, attended the announcement.
“To solve the climate crisis, we need people, provinces and countries to show the way forward towards a coal-free, sustainable future,” Gore said. He noted that Ontario has been at the forefront in innovative technologies in Canada as well as other parts of the world.
According to the Ontario government, the systematic elimination of coal-burning plants is the largest greenhouse gas initiative to take place in North America. The province cited an independent study that Ontario’s Ministry of Energy commissioned on the overall cost of coal. The study found that $4.4 billion in healthcare, environmental and other financial costs are attributed to the use of coal in power generation (Cost Benefit Analysis: Replacing Ontario’s Coal-Fired Electricity Generation, 2005).
Ontario’s announcement dovetailed with the COP19 convention in Warsaw, Poland, where more than 190 different countries met to discuss the prospects and means for abating climate change. Executive Secretary of the convention, Christiana Figueres, told coal executives that change was imminent “for everyone’s sake.”
“The coal industry can and must radically transform and diversify to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” Figueres said. “The coal industry has the opportunity to be part of the worldwide climate solution by responding proactively to the current paradigm shift.”
She suggested that the first step would be to start closing those plants that are “subcritical,” which are considered inefficient in their production. These under-productive facilities, which amount to more than 1 million plants throughout the world, emit more than 900 grams of carbon per KW and are considered a major contributor to climate change.
Ontario’s announcement of its plan to take all of its coal-burning plants offline by the end of next year is the first evidence that world leaders are addressing this call for global change.
Image by Jason Paris.