Ontario needs new electricity plan, says study by York prof

Ontario’s electricity system will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis until a long-term strategy focused on environmental and economic sustainability is adopted, concludes a study led by York environmental studies Professor Mark Winfield. It was published in the international journal Energy Policy this month.

The study finds that the conventional approaches to electricity system planning adopted by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) in the development of its 20-year Integrated Power System Plan (IPSP) have created a situation where the province effectively has no overall plan for the future of its electricity system.

“The fundamental assumptions that underlay the IPSP have been proven wrong by the events of the last two years,” says Winfield, the report’s lead author. “Electricity demand has gone down, rather than up; new nuclear facilities turned out to cost nearly four times what the plan assumed, and the response to the Green Energy Act is proving that there is more potential to develop renewable energy than the OPA assumed. A fundamentally different approach to system planning is needed,” he says.

Left: Mark Winfield

According to the study, co-authored by researchers at the University of Waterloo, the OPA’s failure to properly employ a sustainability assessment approach resulted in a plan that was rigid and relied heavily on nuclear power. This would have left the province’s electricity system unable to adapt to the changed circumstances that have defined the past two years.

“A sustainability assessment approach would have emphasized resilience and adaptive capacity in the development of the plan, and put energy conservation and energy sources that have low environmental impacts and can be added to the system in smaller incremental steps first,” says Winfield. “Options like nuclear power that are large, centralized, inflexible, high-risk and high-cost should have been last.”

The report’s authors, along with a team of faculty and graduate students in environmental studies programs at the University of Waterloo and York University, undertook to illustrate how the OPA should have elaborated and applied the sustainability criteria and trade-off rules that it had formally embraced. The exercise involved constructing a properly comprehensive, context-specific set of sustainability assessment criteria for energy system planning in Ontario, and applying these criteria in assessments of each of the main components of the IPSP proposal.

The report, titled “Implications of sustainability assessment for electricity system design: The case of the Ontario Power Authority’s integrated power system plan”, was co-authored by Professor Robert B. Gibson and graduate students Tanya Markvart and Kyrke Gaudreau of the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment, and Jennifer Taylor, a graduate student in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies.