Canada’s Ontario has outlined plans to close the last four operating coal-fired power stations in the province by early 2009. The stations, which have a combined capacity of more than 6,400 MW, are operated by publicly-owned Ontario Power Generation.

Despite the move, it is seen by many as a step down for the ruling Liberal government following earlier assertions that all coal-fired capacity would be disposed of by 2007 on environmental grounds. Under the latest plan, coal-fired plants in Atikokan, Lambton and Thunder Bay will be closed down by the end of 2007 to be replaced by a combination of gas, conservation and cogeneration. The giant 4,000 MW coal-fired Nanticoke station on the shores of Lake Erie will not be fully phased out until early 2009 to allow installation of new capacity and improvements to the transmission system.

While a number of private sector gas-fired projects are underway and several nuclear reactors shutdown for safety reasons are expected to restart, the government has set a target of adding 1,350 MW of new renewable capacity by 2007, mostly hydro and wind and a further 1000 MW from cogeneration.

However, the proposals fly in the face of a recent cost benefit analysis that concludes a combination of gas and refurbished nuclear capacity would be the best method of providing replacement capacity. In this case most of the baseload demand in the province would be met through bringing existing, non-operating nuclear units back on line, specifically Pickering A (units 1, 2 and 3) and units 1 and 2 at the Bruce nuclear plant by 2007, bringing an annual 18.2TWh from refurbished nuclear capacity.

Back in April the independent report prepared by DSS Management Consultants, RWDI Air and Peter Victor, professor and the former dean of Environmental Studies at York University observed that this lowest cost scenario including health and environmental impacts, would cost C$1.9 billion ($1.5 billion) annually, less than half the annual cost of existing coal generation, C$4.4 billion ($3.5 billion).

The government is currently reviewing a tentative deal with Bruce Power for the refurbishment of its two reactors and Pickering A unit 1 has already returned to service at 515 MW but the government has shied away from making nuclear capacity central part of its plans to phase out coal.

The coal plants are the largest industrial source of greenhouse gas emissions in the province and one of the largest emitters of smog-causing pollutants. The study found a relationship between increased air pollution due to coal-fired electricity generation and up to 668 premature deaths per year. The plan will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada by up to 30 million tonnes a year or about half of the province’s greenhouse-gas-reduction contributions under the Kyoto Protocol.