Ontario Power Authority plans for Pickering nuclear decommissioning


When the Pickering nuclear plant reaches the end of its life within the next decade, the gap in Ontario’s electricity production will be filled by natural gas and renewables such as wind and solar until new units are built in Darlington.

Joe Toneguzzo, director of transmission integration power system planning for the Ontario Power Authority, spoke during the November meeting of the Pickering plant’s community advisory council and explained how the province’s electricity needs would be met over the coming years.

With the phase-out of coal and the power down of the Pickering nuclear plant within the next decade, the Province is changing up how electricity is produced.

“Our objective was to eliminate coal by the end of 2014,” said Mr. Toneguzzo.

For 2015, the OPA is estimating Ontario’s system will have a 42,200 megawatt capacity. That includes 12,900 megawatts of nuclear capacity, 9,000 megawatts of hydro, 9,700 megawatts of natural gas and 8,900 megawatts of non-hydro renewables such as wind and solar.

There are also 1,700 megawatts of demand response capacity in the system which comes from agreements with industrial power users to power down during peak demand times to increase the capacity in the system.

But practically speaking, not all forms of power generation reach their maximum capacity at all times because the sun doesn’t always shine to generate solar power, the wind isn’t always blowing and for hydro power, peak water flows are seasonal.

On hot summer days when electricity demand is at its peak, Mr. Toneguzzo said the Province is counting on just 20 per cent of the capacity from non-hydro renewables and 70 per cent from hydro.

The wind is generally not at its peak during the hottest part of a summer day and power generation can shut down suddenly if the wind stops.

“These things turn on and off very quickly and the rest of the system has to be able to fill in the gaps in seconds,” said Mr. Toneguzzo.

In anticipation of the addition of substantial non-hydro renewables, the Province ramped up its natural gas fleet which can start generating power quickly.

Nuclear will remain the most reliable form of power operating at 100-per cent capacity on a hot summer day, he said.

Mr. Toneguzzo was asked about outages affecting the nuclear picture and responded that while an unplanned outage is a possibility, planned outages are generally scheduled outside of summer peak times.

Of the 166 terra watt hours of power expected to be generated in 2015, 96 terra watt hours will come from nuclear, 11 will come from natural gas, 44 from hydro and 16 will come from other renewables such as solar and wind.

Looking further into the future, the Province’s nuclear capacity drops as Darlington units are set for refurbishment and the Pickering units are taken off line. Assuming the life of the Pickering units is extended, the Province will see the biggest dip in 2020 and 2021 when the nuclear capacity will be about half of what it is in 2015.

The OPA is projecting new Darlington units will start ramping up nuclear power production starting in 2020.

Members of the community council wanted to know whether the Province could meet that deadline given that it has not given the green light for new build yet by selecting a vendor for new units.

“Right now we are not technically losing time,” said Glenn Jager, senior vice-president for Pickering A.

He added that OPG is conducting environmental assessment and site preparation work that had to be done regardless of who the vendor is.

“I can tell you that the Chinese that are building the plants are doing it in five or six years from site preparation completion,” said Mr. Jager, adding that they’re building pressure water reactors. “What could we do? Maybe not five or six years, but comparable, eight or 10 years.”

He did offer a caution about the timing, though.

“We’re not losing time right now but we’re reaching a point when we will.”

Mr. Toneguzzo said Ontario will make up the gap from the loss of nuclear power via renewables such as wind and solar and through natural gas generation.

The OPA forecasts for low, medium and high growth in electricity demand, but Mr. Toneguzzo said the demand has always been less than the low forecast.

As it stand the Province’s capacity will just meet the low-demand forecast in 2019, 2020 and 2022 and it won’t meet the demand in 2021.

Mr. Toneguzzo said that if necessary, the gap can be made up with bringing a former coal plant like Lambton online as a natural gas plant and said if the price is right purchasing power from another jurisdiction such as Quebec might be an option.

In addition to leaving a gap in energy production, the decommissioning of Pickering will also change the flow of electricity into the GTA, necessitating a new transformer station in Oshawa or an upgrade to the current Cherrywood station.

The new station in Oshawa is the preferred option as it could also handle electricity generated by new nuclear units in Darlington. The station would be built on land that is already owned by Hydro One where there are existing transmission lines. The project would cost $300 to $350 million.

This would ensure continued reliable power to fast-growing Ajax and Pickering once the Pickering plant is decommissioned, said Mr. Toneguzzo.

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