More than a decade after Ontario scrapped plans to build two natural gas power plants, the Ford government is set to usher in a new era of fossil-fuelled electricity.
The expansion of gas power — the first since former premier Dalton McGuinty ditched two controversial gas plants in 2011 — could be built on the shores of Windsor’s Detroit River, after the city’s council voted to endorse plans for two new gas turbines.
Capital Power, the company behind the city’s existing gas plant, hopes to build two new gas-fired turbines, adding around 100 megawatts of electrical generation.
If successful, the project could begin construction in the fourth quarter of 2024 and open by December 2025.
The pitch comes as Ontario scrambles for new sources of electricity, facing potential shortfalls in both the 2020s and 2030s.
Last year, Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), the body responsible for procuring electricity in the province, warned that, without a short-term increase in gas power, Ontario could face rotating blackouts.
In a statement on Tuesday, IESO told Global News there were “a couple of active procurements” underway relating to Ontario’s gas power expansion, although it did not confirm if Windsor was among them.
“Long-term procurements for new supply have been launched and we are also seeking expansions and upgrades from existing facilities,” IESO said.
Windsor’s status as the first potential jurisdiction in Ontario to accept new gas power comes despite a motion passed by local city councillors in November 2020, calling for the phase-out of gas power.
That motion was effectively reversed on Monday, when council approved the plans for two new gas-powered electrical turbines in the city.
“The least we can expect from you is to do what you actually said you would do,” Jana Jandal Alrifai, from the Windsor Essex Youth Climate Council, told councillors on Monday.
She said they had a chance “to be leaders” on the issue of green electricity, but her request ultimately fell on deaf ears.
Windsor was one of 34 municipalities that signed a motion from the Ontario Clean Air Alliance calling for Ontario to end gas-powered electricity.
However, rather than phasing out natural gas, the province plans to expand its reliance on the fossil fuel by 1,500 megawatts to stave off shortages it fears in the late 2020s.
“In addition to a limited amount of natural gas generation … the province has launched the largest procurement of clean energy storage in the country’s history,” a provincial spokesperson told Global News.
In October, minister of energy Todd Smith said a significant portion of electrical demand would come from southwestern Ontario, where the auto sector and agriculture would spike demand.
The Ford government stipulated that new or expanded gas plants would only be located in communities that agreed to host them — something Windsor did on Monday night.
“Any community that gets a gas plant will be a willing host community and that will be decided up front,” Smith told Global News at the time.
Global News contacted the 34 municipalities that the Ontario Clean Air Alliance said approved its motion against gas power; just 13 responded to questions sent in October 2022.
Some, including Guelph and Burlington, said their opposition to gas power remained firm.
“The City has concerns about expanding natural gas generating plants to produce electricity as it will increase our carbon footprint,” a spokesperson for Guelph said, reiterating the city’s opposition.
Others, such as St. Catharines, indicated requests would be evaluated as they came in.
Windsor’s support of expanded gas power drew stinging criticism from Jack Gibbons, president of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.
“We’re going in the wrong direction,” he said. “This doesn’t make sense for Windsor, and it doesn’t make sense for Ontario.”
Wrong direction or not, that is where the province is heading — at least in the short term.
An October directive issued by the Ford government ordered IESO to speed up its process, procuring gas power from companies that “are able to commit to achieving commercial operation as soon as possible.”
Advocates fear Windsor will be the first of several areas to accept new or expanded gas power.
“It’s very alarming that we’re seeing these proposals popping up, and that’s because the Ontario government is pushing for new gas generation,” Lana Goldberg, Ontario climate program manager at Environmental Defence told Global News.
“We are going to see these proposals come up in other municipalities, possibly in Toronto, Halton Hills, Sarnia, Brampton. And this is the exact opposite direction we should be going in.”
The return to new gas power generation for the first time in more than a decade is a temporary setback in Ontario’s plan to completely green the grid, the Ford government said.
“What we’re committed to still is a 100-per cent clean grid, but in the meantime to ensure we still have the power that we need … we are going to have some increased natural gas in the short term,” Smith previously told Global News.