Published July 5, 2023

Ontario starts pre-development work for new, large-scale nuclear plant

The province says it is looking at a new plant that can generate enough electricity to power 4.8 million homes

By Allison Jones in Toronto

Ontario is looking to build the first new, large-scale nuclear plant in more than 30 years in order to meet the province's growing electricity demands.

Energy Minister Todd Smith announced Wednesday that the government is looking at a new plant to generate up to 4,800 megawatts — enough to power 4.8 million homes — on the site of Bruce Power's current generating station on the shore of Lake Huron in Tiverton, Ont.

Bruce Power will now start community consultations and conduct an environmental assessment for federal approval to determine the feasibility of another nuclear plant.

"They have the world's largest operating nuclear facility here right now, with about 6,550 megawatts, providing clean, reliable, emissions-free power to the grid, baseload power," Smith said in an interview.

"On a daily basis about 30 per cent of Ontario's electricity comes from this site right now. There's room alongside (units) Bruce A and Bruce B, potentially, for a Bruce C and that's what this pre-development work is intended to begin today."

The plans are part of the province's attempts to meet rising electricity demand, which is expected to grow even more rapidly starting around 2035 due to the proliferation of electric vehicles, new EV battery manufacturing plants and electric arc furnaces for steelmaking.

"Initiating this early planning is going to ensure that the province has a reliable, low-cost and clean option ready and available here at Bruce Power to power the next major international investment, the new homes that are being built in the province and industries and sectors across the province as they grow and look to electrify," Smith said at a news conference.

A report late last year by the Independent Electricity System Operator found that the province could fully eliminate natural gas from the electricity system by 2050, starting with a moratorium in 2027, but it will require about $400 billion in capital spending and more generation including new, large-scale nuclear plants, more conservation efforts, more renewable energy sources and more energy storage.

The province has not committed to a natural gas moratorium or phase-out, but Smith called Wednesday's announcement "phase one of our plan on powering Ontario's growth" and hinted that more of it would be rolled out later this week and next week.

Ontario has moved forward on procuring energy storage for the grid, often in the form of batteries that store energy at times of low demand and inject it back into the system when needed, but it has also added more natural gas generation.

The Independent Electricity System Operator has said gas is required to ensure supply and stability in the short- to medium-term, but that the amount of new natural gas Ontario needs in the next few years is expected to increase emissions by two to four per cent over previous projections.

It means that greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector are set to rise in order to support the economy's broader electrification in the name of reducing emissions.

Environmental advocates have decried the increasing reliance on natural gas generation, but many also object to more nuclear power.

"Building new nuclear plants is the most expensive way possible to meet our future low-carbon energy needs," said Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada.

"Wind and solar, even with storage, are one half to one third the price with no radioactive waste or risk of catastrophic accidents."

In terms of costs, Smith said the pre-development work could cost $80 million, depending on how long federal approvals take, and the ministry is working with the IESO and Bruce Power on a contract.

Smith also said that the work could partly be funded by revenue from a voluntary clean energy "credit" registry launched earlier this year, through which companies can pay to boast a commitment to clean energy.

The government has previously said it expects sales in the first year of the registry to generate $8 million, but hopes that amount will rise in subsequent years.

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2023.

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