Gerald Butts might not be happy

Ontario Power Generation is making some moves that may make Gerald Butts both happy and unhappy

[Photo: Delsan AIM Environmental Services]
Former McGuinty major domo and Trudeau chief of staff Gerald Butts posted a Tweet about the demolition of the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) Nanticoke coal power plant with this somewhat off the wall claim.

Gerald Butts @gmbutts Aug 23  When Dalton McGuinty was elected in 2003, everyone (including OPG) told him this couldn’t be done. Then he and @DwightDuncan did it. This is what progress on #climatechange looks like. The end of 7550MW of coal in Ontario.”

He was inspired apparently by David Hains of the Globe and Mail who Tweeted about the demolition that “This is quite something not just for the spectacular visuals, but also how it closes the book on what was once the largest coal plant in North America, and the largest single source of greenhouse gases.”

So, here are some facts, to put Nanticoke into perspective with renewables.

Nanticoke versus solar

The 4,000 MW Nanticoke coal plant was able to produce 21 million MWh annually,* had 600 employees and has now been replaced by a 44 MW solar array that might produce 58,000 MWh** annually. This would make Gerald Butts happy!

Nanticoke could have produced 364 times more power than the 44 MW of solar panels! The 44 MW of solar panels sit on 260 acres and produce power when the sun shines, whereas the Nanticoke coal plant could produce power when needed. If OPG’s objective was to replace the 4,000 MW with solar (generating at an average of 15 per cent of capacity) they would require 364 times more solar panels and almost 96,000 acres*** of land! (One wonders if OPG had made that move how many employees would be required to sweep the snow off the panels come a blustery winter?)

Replacing Nanticoke’s potential generation with solar panels would have cost about $9.4 billion**** annually versus approximately $630 million at a cost of 3 cents/kwh.

Nanticoke vs. wind power   

Another OPG announcement in late May indicated they would abandon their one  industrial wind turbine (IWT)  and dismantle it.  The press release suggested: “At full power, it could produce enough energy to power about 330 homes.” What that implies is, the 1.8 MW turbine (located on the Pickering Nuclear plant site) operated at about 19% of its capacity to produce intermittent power for those homes. Had OPG opted to replace the Nanticoke coal plant with IWT generation operating at 30% of capacity they would have required 8,000 MW. As a matter of interest CanWEA reported 5,076 MW in operation in Ontario at the end of 2018. Those 8,000 MW of IWT may have supplied the 21 million MWh the Nanticoke plant was capable of generating but, only 35 per cent of the time when Ontario demand required it! The land needed for the 8,000 MW would be about 6,000 acres or twenty-three times the land Nanticoke used.

The annual cost of replacing Nanticoke’s generation with IWT would be north of $2.8 billion***** versus $630 million.

OPG back into fossil fuels

A very recent OPG announcement will surely make Gerald Butts very unhappy! An OPG subsidiary reached agreement with affiliates of TC Energy to acquire natural gas assets at a cost of $2.87 billion.  They are acquiring full ownership of the Napanee plant (900 MW) involved in the McGuinty/Liberal gas plant scandal, Halton Hills (683 MW) and the 50% (275 MW) of Portlands they don’t own.  In total, the 1,858 MW they are acquiring will cost $1.54 million/MW which appears on the high side; however, one would assume OPG would also retain the contracts.

In the case of the Napanee plant they will receive $15K per turbine per month for simply idling, meaning annual revenue should be $162 million.  It one assumes the remaining 958 MW will be paid at a lesser rate of say, $12K per turbine per month, that would add another $138 million annually.  In simple terms OPG should recover their full costs in just under 10 years!  What that hopefully means is the effect of the acquisition should be negligible in respect to ratepayers; however, it appears the Napanee plant has not been commissioned.  Ratepayers should hope the OPG agreement to purchase requires commissioning!


So, in summary, OPG is getting back into the fossil fuel business instead of adding renewable energy in the form of either solar panels or wind turbines. We ratepayers/taxpayers should remember the reason we needed the gas plants in the first place was to back up the intermittent and unreliable wind and solar plants that collectively represent about 7,500 MW of sporadic capacity and were instrumental in driving up electricity costs by a factor in excess of three times inflation rates.


*Enough to supply 2.5 million average Ontario households.

**Enough to supply 6,400 average households.

***That is almost equal to the area the City of London, Ontario currently occupies.

****At the current average cost of solar generation estimated as $$440 per MWh not including back-up

*****Estimated at a cost of $135 per MWh but without back-up.