Council: Shut Down Coal Now!
Submitted by OCAA on Thu, 05/13/2010 - 04:30.
Council: Shut Down Coal Now!
City council is asking the provincial government to shut down coal-fired electricity plants in Ontario including the massive one in Nanticoke. If implemented, the move should improve Hamilton’s air quality, although the local steel mills remain one of the largest sources of pollutants in the Great Lakes.
Councillors were told this week that a sharp drop in electricity demand along with rapidly expanding sustainable energy production means the McGuinty government can accomplish its planned coal phase–out four years early.
Jack Gibbons of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance spoke to council’s committee of the whole in support of a motion introduced earlier by Sam Merulla. The Alliance is a coalition of approximately 90 organizations, including Hamilton and nine other municipalities, which was established in 1997.
“Our coal–free capacity is now 23 per cent greater than our forecast peak demand for electricity this summer,” explained Gibbons. “Nevertheless much of our cleaner natural gas fired electricity generation capacity remains idle as Ontario Power Generation continues to operate its dirty coal plants.”
He argued the coal phase–out will save a thousand lives and “prevent up to 480,000 asthma attacks”, as well as contribute significantly to the prevention of climate change.
“Ontario’s coal phase–out is the single largest greenhouse gas emissions reduction initiative in North America,” Gibbons said. “It is equivalent to taking about 7 million cars off the road, and as you all know, Hamilton is downwind from the Nanticoke generating station, which is the largest coal–fired power plant in North America.”
Gibbons call was enthusiastically endorsed by the city’s chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson because of its impact on human health.
“The Council of Medical Officers of Health of Ontario took a similar position about three years ago about fast–tracking the shutdown of these particular plants,” Richardson noted. “We think it’s a very progressive move.”
Councillors queried Gibbons on energy issues ranging from nuclear power to the local effects of pollution from coal–fired power plants in the Ohio valley, and whether shutting Nanticoke will force the province to buy coal generated electricity from the US.
Gibbons noted that nuclear energy “is one of the highest cost options” so the Alliance is advocating the emphasis be placed on energy conservation, co–generation and renewables, supplemented if necessary by water power imported from Quebec.
The only dissenting voice came from Lloyd Ferguson who wanted to hear a delegation from Ontario Power Generation (OPG) before voting on Merulla’s motion.
“Nobody could argue with the health effects of the coal–fired plant,” he said. “Only we’re supposed to hear a balanced presentation. If it’s as easy as you’re saying it is, that we have surplus power, and the existing facilities can handle it, how’s OPG respond to that?”
Gibbons responded that OPG lost over $400 million last year on the operation of its coal–fired plants but not everyone has had a chance to react to changes in electricity demand.
“Things have changed quite dramatically in the last year or so in terms of new supply and a reduction in demand in Ontario,” he stated. “In the last three years the demand for electricity has dropped by 10 per cent in Ontario.”
Statistics released last month by Pollution Watch showed that Hamilton’s two steel mills ranked in the top seven sources of cancer–causing chemicals in 2007 – the last year for which federal government data is available. ArcelorMittal–Dofasco releasing 98,604 kilograms of known carcinogens to the air – the third largest source in the Great Lakes region – while US Steel was in seventh place with 76,798 kilograms. Dofasco also ranked seventh in releases to the air of known reproductive/developmental toxins.