In the House of the Rising Sun: OPG Trades Coal for Solar

In February of this year, Ontario watched as two giant smokestacks on the coast of Lake Erie were demolished in a controlled yet mighty dust cloud. More than just a spectacle, this destruction marks a significant turn for the way power is generated in Ontario. Now that the dust has settled on the site, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has announced its plans to amp up its renewable energy capabilities by converting the former Nanticoke Generating Station into a solar power project. The move is a big step for the province towards clean, renewable energy sources, resulting in a drastic decrease in smog and air pollutants.

The former Nanticoke coal-fired generating station is getting a green facelift. (Ontario Power Generation Inc.)

The plant, which first came into service in 1972, was once the largest coal-fuelled power plant in North America. Come the end of 2019, the site will be transformed into Nanticoke Solar, a 200,000 panel, 44 MW solar farm that is a partnership between OPG, Sun Edison Canadian Construction LP, and the Six Nations of the Grand River.

Eliminating coal as a source of power is the largest action being taken to fight climate change. “At its peak, Nanticoke Generating Station was one of the largest air polluters in North America,” says Glenn Thibeault, Ontario’s Minister of Energy. “Ontario’s elimination of coal for electricity generation remains the single largest climate change initiative undertaken in North America and was the equivalent of taking up to seven million cars off of our roads.”

But climate change isn’t the only worry: smoggy skies also lead to many health problems for Ontarians. The burning of coal for electricity generation is a significant source of local and regional air pollution and mercury emissions. A 2005 independent study estimated that the total annual cost of coal-fired electricity, including health, financial and environmental costs, was $4.4 billion (2004$). In 2003, the Ontario government committed to eliminating all of its coal-powered generation plants in a phase out approach.

Nanticoke Solar is the Six Nations’ 10th green development initiative, and OPG’s 5th project with Indigenous communities. In addition to Nanticoke Solar, OPG has partnered with Indigenous communities on the Lac Seul Generating Station (in partnership with Lac Seul First Nation), the Lower Mattagami River Project (in partnership with Moose Cree First Nation), and the recently completed Peter Sutherland Sr. Generating Station (in partnership with Taykwa Tagamou Nation).

A fifth green development project between OPG and Indigenous communities is also in the works: Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek (KZA) / Gull Bay First Nation and OPG are codeveloping a microgrid that will offset diesel use in the remote KZA community. Currently, the KZA community’s energy supply is powered by diesel; the new microgrid project combines the use of solar, lithium-ion battery storage, and grid technology to reduce diesel use by approximately 100,000 litres each year, which equates to a reduction of approximately 340 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

Nanticoke Solar is expected to be up and running by Spring of 2019.

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