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Photo Essay: A Look Inside Ontario, Canada’s Coal-to-Biomass Power Plant Conversion

Words by 3p Contributor
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Information provided by Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure (MEDEI)

Kicking the coal habit isn’t easy, but as Ontario, Canada has learned — the air is cleaner when it’s done. With the closing of the Thunder Bay Generating Station earlier this year, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to fully eliminate coal as a source of electricity generation.

"Getting off coal is the single largest climate change initiative undertaken in North America and is equivalent to taking up to seven million cars off the road,” observed Ontario’s Minister of Energy, Bob Chiarelli. “We celebrate a cleaner future for our children and grandchildren while embracing the environmental benefits that our cleaner energy sources will bring."

A big part of transitioning away from coal is renovating power plants that were once coal-fired. One recent milestone: Ontario households recently began using energy generated by North America’s largest power plant fueled completely by biomass. Formerly a coal-burning facility in existence for more than 50 years, it is now a source of clean energy.

The station burned its last piece of coal in September 2012. Conversion of the station began in mid-2012 and included construction of two silos and boiler modifications to accommodate the biomass.

“The successful conversion of Atikokan to biomass will put Ontario on the world map as a leader in using this sustainable fuel source for electricity production,” Chiarelli added.

The coal-free energy mix now being burned at Atikokan will lead to a significant reduction in harmful emissions and, in turn, will result in cleaner air and a healthier environment. “Close to 100 percent of the electricity Ontario Power Generation produces is from sources that are virtually free of climate change- or smog-causing emissions,” added Tom Mitchell, president and CEO of Ontario Power Generation, which generates more than half of Ontario's power.

The biomass used to fuel the Atikokan Generating Station is being harvested and processed in Ontario. Domestic suppliers have leveraged this opportunity to secure contracts to provide pellets to international buyers.

Ontario Power Generation has contracts in place with two companies in northwestern Ontario to supply the wood pellets. Rentech and Resolute Forest Products Canada will each supply 45,000 tons of wood pellets annually.

Power when the grid needs it most


“Atikokan Generating Station is a unique addition to our clean energy portfolio as it provides dispatchable renewable energy that can be used when the power system needs it,” Mitchell added.

Thunder Bay Generating Station, operated by Ontario Power Generation, was the oldest coal-fired station in the province.  Like the Atikokan facility, the plant is being converted to burn advanced biomass, a renewable fuel source.

Ontario fulfilled its commitment to end coal generation in advance of its target of the end of 2014. A coal-free electricity supply mix has led to a significant reduction in harmful emissions, as well as cleaner air and a healthier environment.

For an inside look at the conversion of the Atikokan plant, check out the photo gallery below.

[gallery ids="202153,202154,202155,202156,202157,202158,202159"]

All images courtesy of the Ministry of Ontario

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