Why Ontario must rethink its nuclear refurbishment plans

The costs of renewable energy, including solar photovoltaics, is declining rapidly. (Shutterstock)

Ontario is working to refurbish 10 nuclear reactors at the Darlington and Bruce power plants at estimated costs of $12.8 billion and $13 billion respectively. In the months ahead, Ontario Power Generation expects to start the refurbishment process for one of the units at Darlington.

Because of a history of cost overruns with nuclear construction projects around the world, including Canada, this strategy comes with significant financial risks. In 2020, it’s critical to continuously re-evaluate whether proceeding with refurbishment makes economic sense.

An aerial photo of the Bruce Power Generating Station near Kincardine, Ont., is seen in this 2006 photo. (Chuck Szmurlo/Wikimedia)CC BY-SA 

In the first of these refurbishments, there is already evidence of cost overruns and delays. The question of whether to refurbish them becomes even more urgent in light of the rapidly declining costs of wind and solar energy, which also deliver electricity without emitting carbon dioxide.

We’re researchers who have examined the economics of electricity generation in Ontario, and we’ve demonstrated that as the costs of batteries decline, the cost of supplying electricity using a combination of renewables and battery storage would be cheaper than using nuclear power. We argue that it’s critical to examine Ontario’s commitment to these refurbishment plans.

Financial risks

In 2017, Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office highlighted four key financial risks to ratepayers.

They included “the risk that the cost of refurbishing the reactors will be higher or lower than planned,” “the cost of operating the reactors will be higher or lower than planned,” the “risk of insufficient electricity grid demand for nuclear generation” and the risk “that the province’s commitment to nuclear refurbishment will preclude it from taking advantage of alternative, lower cost, low emissions grid-scale electricity generation options.”

The Financial Accountability Office talks about costs of refurbishing being higher or lower.

Pressure pipes at the Darlington nuclear facility in Courtice, Ont., in October 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn 

But the report documents that, historically, the cost for refurbishment has always been higher than initially budgeted. And there is preliminary evidence that the refurbishment of the Darlington nuclear plant will be more costly and take more time than projected.

The total annual demand for electricity in Ontario has also declined from 157 Terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2005, when the province began exploring refurbishing nuclear reactors, to 137.5 TWh in 2018.

To mitigate these risks, the province has some options to terminate refurbishments, called off-ramps. Because the costs of refurbishment will be greater than shifting gradually to a grid that incorporates a much larger fraction of renewables, it’s time to seriously consider these off-ramps.

Renewables are cheaper

The main reason to reconsider refurbishment is the declining costs of renewables and batteries. Globally, the costs of solar and wind energy have fallen dramatically over the past decade.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, the average installation cost of solar photovoltaics has declined to US$1,210 per kilowatt (kW) from US$4,621 per kW in 2010. The installation cost of onshore wind turbines has dropped to US$1,497 per kW from US$1,931 per kW.

Similar reductions have been seen in Canada too.

In the United States, one of the largest renewable energy markets in the world and one for which reliable data is available, the Wall Street advisory firm Lazard recently recorded the average construction costs of solar photovoltaics and onshore wind turbines as US$1,000 per kW and US$1,300 per kW.

file-20191203-66990-188nyfb.jpg (754×503)
Wind turbines are shown at the opening of a 44-turbine wind farm near Port Alma, Ont., in 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Dave Chidley 

In comparison, a Lazard 2013 report recorded US$1,750 per kW for both solar photovoltaic and wind energy. This decline in cost is corroborated by other sources. Nuclear power, on the other hand, has risen to US$9,550 per kW in 2019 from US$6,792 per kW in 2013.

Battery costs too have come down rapidly and analysts predict continued growth as costs continue to decline. Large-scale batteries such as Tesla’s Powerpack project are becoming more common.

Modelling and results

We developed a simple model to compare the relative costs associated with the different ways of meeting Ontario’s hourly electricity demand in 2017, as reported by the Independent Electricity System Operator.

We also assumed that the electricity sector is completely decarbonized, and no fossil fuels are used in electricity generation (there would, of course, be emissions for all sources of electricity from the manufacturing processes involved).

With this constraint, our model showed that if the costs of batteries decline from current values to those projected for 2025 by McKinsey Corporation, then the cost of supplying electricity using a combination of renewables and battery storage would become cheaper than nuclear power. That’s especially true if there are cost overruns during refurbishment.

This cost could be further reduced if the availability of hydro power is increased. This is relevant because Ontario has been urged to import more hydro power from neighbouring Québec.

While we haven’t modelled this possibility, it’s clear that a greater ability to modify demand in response to available renewables, and a greater grid capacity that could transfer more electricity between Ontario and other Canadian provinces in addition to Québec, could further lower the overall cost of electricity.

Time for the off-ramps?

The chief implication of our analysis is that it’s getting close to the time to use the off-ramps and abandon the nuclear reactor refurbishment process. To be sure, the conditions for employing off-ramps are complicated and require careful legal analysis that we’re not qualified to evaluate. However, our work does suggest that because it’s more expensive to continue to operate nuclear reactors, investing in refurbishment is not economically justified.

None of this is intended to imply that the transition to an electricity system dominated by renewables will be quick or easy. The magnitude of the shift required is immense given the overwhelming dominance of nuclear power and natural gas in Ontario’s electricity supply.

Yet the economic and climate reality justifies starting such a transition. Investing in old energy generation facilities moves us away, not towards, such a transition and locks consumers into high electricity costs for decades.  SOURCE

50 Million Trees Program – Status Update

Boreal ForrestHow millions of Ontario trees escaped Doug Ford’s cuts

DEC 6, 2019 — Following news articles and receiving an update from Forests Ontario, here is the latest update about the program.

The 50 Million Tree Program is fully up-and-running. Forests Ontario is now taking applications from property owners wishing to plant trees. The criteria for the program has changed; in the past, folks needed to have at least 2.5 acres of open land for planting to be eligible, whereas now property owners can apply if they have room to plant a minimum of 500 hundred trees (which can be as little as 0.6 of an acre).

There is no need for the supporters of the petition to understand the importance of trees. The more trees on the ground, more CO2 sequestered from the atmosphere and a slew of other benefits including preventing land erosion, increasing bio diversity and many more.

The 50 Million Tree Program provides professional technical and financial assistance for mid to large-scale tree planting.

If you are interested in applying for the program, visit www.forestsontario.ca/50MTP 

Ford, Moe and Higgs to announce deal on development of small nuclear reactors

Doug Ford et al. sitting on a bench in a suit and tie© Provided by The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Three of Canada’s premiers will announce Sunday a plan to fight climate change by working together on small nuclear reactors, a company that’s developing the technology said Saturday.

New Brunswick-based ARC Nuclear Canada said in a news release that its president will attend a signing ceremony Sunday between the provinces of New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan to work in collaboration on the modular reactors “in an effort to mitigate the effects of climate change.”The Ontario government said Premier Doug Ford will meet with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs for an announcement at a hotel near Pearson International Airport on Sunday afternoon.A spokesman with Moe’s office confirmed the announcement is connected to an agreement on technology for small modular reactors, while a spokeswoman for Ford’s office said it’s an agreement to work together to determine the best technologies for the deployment of small modular reactors in Canada.Moe said earlier this month that nuclear power has to be deployed in a big way around the world to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, noting his province is well positioned to support more nuclear power with its large reserves of high-grade uranium ore.All three of the premiers are opponents of the federally mandated carbon tax.

ARC Canada, which has its head office in Saint John, N.B., says its mission is to commercialize an advanced small modular reactor that it says “provides safe, reliable, economically competitive and carbon-free energy.”

The company said it hopes the three provinces coming together will demonstrate the role the small reactors can play in helping Canada reach its climate change goals.

Moe has said that Saskatchewan will address climate change over the next decade by looking to carbon capture and storage technology and by increasing research efforts around small modular nuclear reactors.

However, the possibility of bringing nuclear power to Saskatchewan could still be years away.

After October’s throne speech in which the alternative power source was also touted, Environment Minister Dustin Duncan said Canada could see small modular nuclear technology before 2030, but it likely wouldn’t be in Saskatchewan as the province doesn’t have any nuclear sites, unlike Ontario and New Brunswick.

In June 2018, the New Brunswick government committed $10 million to help establish the province as a leader in small modular reactor technology.

NB Power, which operates the 660-megawatt Point Lepreau nuclear generating station near Saint John, has said the technology can be scaled for designs with an output of between five and 300 megawatts. The units can be constructed and shipped to locations where they are assembled on site.

ARC Canada’s website says its design “creates a ‘walk away’ passive safety system that insures the reactor will never melt down even in a disaster that causes a complete loss of power to the plant site.” SOURCE


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Don’t think about the nuclear elephant


Take action! Sign the Petition asking Premier Ford to cut your electricity bill by 12% by doing a deal with Quebec.

Tell Premier Ford to make a deal with Quebec

Doug Ford wants you to think about what the federal carbon tax is costing you — even though it will not actually cost 70% of Ontario’s families anything – and not about his failure to deliver on his promise to reduce electricity costs.

In its electricity plan released in March, the Ford government essentially admitted that it could not deliver on the Premier’s promise to reduce electricity costs by 12% while proceeding with high-cost, high-risk nuclear rebuild projects.

That’s why we are once again reminding the Premier that he can keep his promise by making a deal with Quebec to import low-cost water power. Today we’re starting to air radio ads on Barrie radio stations Rock 95 and 107.5 KoolFM calling on the Premier to save Ontarians money by making a deal with Quebec. Please click here to listen to our radio ads.

Instead of printing stickers, redesigning licence plates and generally trying to distract Ontarians from his failure to keep a major cost-saving promise, the Premier should sit down with Quebec Premier Legault and get a deal done. MORE

Ontario’s unbelievable ‘business case’ for nuclear refurbishment

Did you know: Ontario is moving forward with rebuilding 10 of our aging nuclear reactors at very high cost (16.5 cents/kWh) while Quebec is offering us renewable water power at less than one-third the cost (5 cents/kWh). Please sign the petition.

Residents around TMI exposed to far more radiation than officials claimed

Today is the 40th anniversary of the partial meltdown of reactor 2 at Three Mile Island  in Pennsylvania, USA. Despite the evidence in human blood, lived experience of the exposed, recognition of faulty monitors, and increases of cancers, the constant false narrative that TMI caused no harm remains.


No Nukes News

Basic income study aims to lower B.C. poverty level by 2024

Minister Shane Simpson said TogetherBC’s strategy is to assist the 557,000 people who are living in poverty, with the goal to lift 140,000 of them out of poverty.

Protesters gather at Lindsay's Victoria Park last summer to decry the provincial government's decision to prematurely end the Basic Income Project.
Protesters gather at Lindsay’s Victoria Park last summer to decry the provincial government’s decision to prematurely end the Basic Income Project.  (BILL HODGINS / METROLAND FILE PHOTO)

SURREY, B.C. — A panel of experts is looking at whether British Columbia could provide a basic income or if the federal government would have to initiate it, says the minister responsible for the province’s poverty reduction plan.

Shane Simpson said Monday the aim of the strategy is to cut the overall poverty rate by 25 per cent and child poverty by 50 per cent within five years.

He said the three experts came together six months ago and would make recommendations next year on various issues including the question of a basic income.

“That will, I think, trigger a very important debate in British Columbia about what income security looks like and about the role of basic income and the principles of basic income,” he said after announcing the guidelines for the province’s poverty reduction plan at a child care resource centre.

Ontario launched a basic income pilot project in 2017, but Premier Doug Ford cancelled it shortly after taking office last year. In February, the Ontario Superior Court denied a request that it quash the province’s decision, saying it had no power to reverse it. MORE


Death knell for basic income: How participants will spend their last cheque

Moving Along: Updates to Ontario’s Environment Plan

Joanna RosengartenAs reported in a previous blog post, in late 2018 the Ontario government released the Environment Plan: Preserving and Protecting our Environment for Future Generations. This Plan outlined the government’s intended actions and policies for addressing many environment-related issues in Ontario, including the pollution of air, land, and water, the reduction of litter and waste, and the emission of greenhouse gases (“GHGs”). The government is moving ahead with its Plan and has posted two proposals for a 45-day comment period: (1) a proposal related to emission performance standards; and (2) a proposal to increase the renewable content of gasoline.

The government’s proposal for industrial Emission Performance Standards (EPS) indicates that this program is being developed as an alternative to the federal government’s Output-Based Pricing System (OBPS) (see our earlier blog posts for an overview of the OPBS). The EPS approach would establish industry-specific greenhouse gas emission performance standards that facilities would be required to meet….

The government is also proposing to increase the renewable fuel content of gasoline from 10% to 15% as early as 2025. Ontario’s current regulations require an average of 5% ethanol (renewable fuel) content in gasoline. In 2020, the renewable fuel content would increase to 10% and then to 15% by 2025. MORE


POLL: Most people disagree with Premier Ford on whether carbon tax will cause a recession


When Ontario Premier Doug Ford claimed the federal government’s carbon tax would cause a recession in Ontario, many economists disagreed. And it seems most regular people do as well.

According to the first in a series of Clean Energy Canada / Abacus Data nationwide polls:

  • Few Canadians (19%) expect a recession next year. If there were to be one, most (63%) say it would likely have more to do with global economic trends than domestic policies.
  • When told Premier Ford warned the federal carbon tax would cause a recession in Ontario, almost two out of three across the country (64%), and in Ontario (63%), disagreed, believing he was overstating the impact.
  • When respondents were presented with a question which noted that many economists had offered a contrary view, namely that the impact of the tax would be too small to cause a recession, even more people (73% in Ontario, 74% across Canada) rejected Mr. Ford’s contention.


Ontario environment watchdogs say Doug Ford just gutted a law that protects your rights

Dianne Saxe, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, seen in her office during an interview with National Observer on Dec. 6, 2018. Photo by Cole Burston

The legislation transfers the commissioner’s position into the office of the provincial auditor general. It also notably transfers her most important role — to uphold the Environmental Bill of Rights, which gives residents the right to participate in environmental decision-making and hold the government to account on its actions, or inactions, on environmental issues — to the provincial environment minister.

They say they’re going to police themselves. Now, when has that ever worked?”

This means that the government will take charge of investigating itself, whenever things are seen to go wrong in its efforts to protect environmental health and rights. MORE

Court ruling to grant First Nations a much bigger cut of resources royalties in Ontario

Wiikwemkoong Chief Duke Peltier speaks to the Globe and Mail on June 21, 2018 in Toronto. GLENN LOWSON/FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Forty thousand members of 23 First Nations communities in Northern Ontario have been receiving $4 a person each year from the Crown for ceding rights over a resource-rich territory about the size of France under 1850 treaties.

The Indigenous groups filed a court challenge against the Crown, saying the $4 annuity did not reflect the spirit of the treaties. And now a judge – after an exhaustive examination of the history of the treaties – has ruled that the signatories intended that the annuities should grow to allow the First Nations to share the growth in revenues governments receive from resource companies in the territory.

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