Ontario Legislative Assembly Building
  • It’s taken over a full term in office, but Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives have finally announced new renewable energy procurement.
  • A simultaneous commitment to additional gas generation, however, complicates the province’s path to net zero — and threatens to undermine its clean energy advantage.

After more than five years of hostility towards Ontario’s green economy, including repealing the province’s cap-and-trade system, ripping up renewable energy contracts, and eliminating measures aimed at speeding up wind and solar deployments, the Progressive Conservatives (PCs) look to be evolving on the energy file.

Under the direction of Energy Minister Todd Smith, Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) recently announced plans to procure 5,000 megawatts (MW) of emissions-free electricity by 2034 — enough to power tens of thousands of homes.


The new procurements will be carried out through a series of Requests For Proposals, with the first 2,000 MW of solar, wind, and to a lesser degree, hydro and other renewables coming online by 2030. Two additional procurement rounds of 1,500 MW will follow in 2032 and 2034.


Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith. (thestar)

The PC’s about-face on renewable energy ultimately reflects the growing economic importance of clean electricity, with access to robust renewable markets now imperative to attracting global investment.

Volkswagen’s decision to open its first North American electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant in Ontario, for example, was a direct result of the province’s clean energy advantage. It’s unfortunate, then, that despite a seeming change of heart on low-cost renewable energy, the PCs continue to forge ahead with additional natural gas development, threatening the very clean energy advantage they like to tout.

New gas plants in Windsor and St. Clair are slated for construction, whereas existing plants in Brampton, Halton Hills, Toronto, and Thorold (nearby St. Catherines) have received multi-year contract extensions. And despite Federal Clean Electricity Regulations that will shutter gas plants as early as 2035, Ontario is promising to maintain payments to fossil fuel companies — even if their facilities are no longer operational.

Minister Smith has defended the expansion of natural gas — the largest in over a decade — as an “insurance policy,” particularly as some of the province’s nuclear generators undergo refurbishment. At the same time, however, the PCs quietly let the Ontario-Quebec Electricity Trade Agreement expire at the end of 2022, effectively eliminating 2.3 terawatt hours (TWh) worth of clean baseload power from the province’s grid.

According to the IESO, the PC’s changes will increase gas plant emissions by over 400% by 2030 (relative to 2017 levels), undoing much of the progress of previous governments. Between 2005 and 2017, Ontario successfully phased out coal-fired plants, slashing electricity-related emissions by more than 90% in what is often hailed as North America’s greatest climate effort.

Eliminating coal from the grid also made Ontario vastly more competitive — yet today, this advantage is at risk.

Rather than commissioning new gas plants that will undermine one of Ontario’s core industrial strengths, worsen air quality, and take the province back on climate action, the PCs should make use of the solution right under their noses: low-cost wind and solar paired with battery storage and other renewables.

Let’s hope the PCs can ‘get it done.’

Brett Porter
Brett is a cleantech and climate communicator specializing in knowledge translation, public relations, and content and messaging strategy. He has a degree in Professional Communication from Toronto Metropolitan University with a minor in Canadian Government and Politics. On the side, he advises climate-friendly politicians. You can find brett at brettporter[dot]ca.

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