Is there untapped hydroelectric potential in Northern Ontario?
Provincial Energy Minister Todd Smith has instructed Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to look for potential areas for new project development in this region.
The provincial government wants to address Ontario's growing long-term energy needs and come up with a course of action toward zero emissions in the electricity sector.
The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) has forecast an increased power demand due to increased electrification in the economy, the closure of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, and the refurbishment of Ontario’s other nuclear facilities.
Hydro power makes up 24 per cent of Ontario’s electricity generation and is considered the lowest cost method of power production.
The review, announced Jan. 20, involves OPG working with the Ontario Waterpower Association (OWA) to update previous evaluations of hydroelectric potential in the North.
They'll come with new estimates on water availability, annual energy production potential, and life-cycle costs of building and operating new hydroelectric generation while engaging communities during this process.
This work will be shared with the Ministry of Energy as well as the IESO, the latter being the Crown corporation responsible for operating and directing the electricity market and the bulk electrical system in Ontario,
“Beginning with Niagara Falls, hydroelectric generation has played a critical role meeting Ontario’s electricity needs for over a century and we are excited to explore new opportunities to meet future needs and build on Ontario’s achievement of one of the cleanest electricity grids in the world," said Smith in a statement.
More water power projects in the North could offer economic benefits for local and Indigenous communities in the North, the government said.
A dozen of hydro generating stations involve Indigenous ownership. OPG has partnerships with three First Nations on six generating stations, including the Lac Seul Generating Station, Lower Mattagami Redevelopment Project and Peter Sutherland Sr. GS.
The government said OPG will be engaging with Indigenous communities and organizations to understand how First Nations can participate and benefit from these future projects.
“Further hydro development could spur job creation in Indigenous and remote communities, power industries and communities, and will ensure a cleaner future for our province," added Mines, Northern Development, Natural Resources and Forestry Minster Greg Rickford in a news release.
Last fall, Smith asked the IESO to evaluate a moratorium on the procurement of new natural gas generation stations in Ontario and develop a plan to phase out natural-gas generation. Last month, the government and OPG announced plans for a small modular nuclear reactor at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station.
"As electrification to help meet climate change goals progresses, there will be a need for additional clean electricity, and new non-emitting waterpower from Ontario’s north has the potential to help fill that need," said OPG president Ken Hartwick. "Through this study, we will apply our experience in this area to help unlock this potential."
"Waterpower is Ontario's foundational electricity source and a backbone to a reliable, affordable and sustainable system," said OWA president Paul Norris in a statement.
"This initiative will help inform the province's choices as we move into a period of increased demand driven by economic recovery and electrification."