The Price Ontario Pays for Clean and Reliable Electricity


Ontario is well known for its 93 percent carbon-free, highly reliable electricity system. But reliability and clean energy come at a steep price, and with Ontario citizens looking at a $2-per-month increase in electricity bills for an average 700 kWh usage, it is often a subject of speculation whether clean and reliable energy is worth its price.

How Reliable Are Ontario’s Electricity Systems?

To get a glimpse of the Ontario electricity systems’ reliability, it’s important to look into an incident in early 2019 that affected tens of millions of citizens in Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. The event saw three countries in a state of major blackout for three days.

The incident was brought about by a line failure that caused a system-wide cascade of electrical failures due to automated systems failing to minimize the impact. The failure can be attributed to the presence of only one key transmission line, since the other was out of commission for an extended service maintenance.

Plenty of Ontario citizens have been concerned with the news, perhaps because they remember a similar incident that happened in 2003 which left 50 million citizens across Ontario and the northeastern and midwestern United States without power. The incident was caused by a transmission line in Ohio that overloaded and consequently sagged and hit overgrown trees.

A statement released by the Independent Electricity Supply Operator chair, Joe Oliver, clarifies that a similar incident and complete blackout is highly unlikely to occur. He explains that, since the 2003 incident, the Ontario system has had multiple fail-safes installed for similar events.

He further elaborates that the Ontario electricity systems are operated and built on multiple redundancies, which means that critical functions or components of the systems are duplicated to account for failures and ensure that there are backup lines that would function in the event of the main line malfunctioning.

He also shares that the design of the Ontario systems adheres to the strict standards of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which is in charge of auditing the Independent Electricity Supply Operator (IESO) — the Crown corporation responsible for operating the electricity market — once every three years.

Further proving the Ontario systems’ reliability, the IESO regularly assesses possible impacts of future events on the reliability of the systems. The IESO also maintains reliability by adjusting generator and system settings for protection. New York and Michigan system operators can be seen doing the same to avoid another cascade of power failures into Ontario.

Are Ontario’s Electricity Systems Truly Clean?

Ontario’s energy systems are powered by nuclear, hydro, wind, gas, solar, and biomass sources of electricity. This means that the major power systems—nuclear and hydro — account for 93 percent of the electricity needs in the city. This means that through nuclear and hydro energy systems, Ontario is able to maintain a 93 percent carbon-free system for generating electricity.

In comparison, electricity systems in the United States stagger behind, with New York only 56 percent carbon-free. Ontario’s clean energy systems are much more impressive when compared to New England, which is only 49 percent carbon-free, and the Midwest, which only is24 percent carbon-free due to its reliance on gas and coal energy sources.

It is safe to say that Ontario boasts an impressively clean marketplace for electricity.

If It’s So Reliable, Why Is It So Expensive?

It’s no secret that green options usually come with a hefty price tag. The same can be said for Ontario’s impressively clean energy systems. The recent transition from the 86 percent clean supply provided by hydro and nuclear sources to 93 percent came with an unexpectedly high financial backlash.

Simply put, Ontario is generating more power than it knows what to do with. The excess power is then sold off to the United States at a price that is cheaper than the cost of production. This means that Ontario citizens are expected to pay for the excess power generated, which is classified on your hydro bills as the “global adjustment.

The cost of production for the excess energy is then scattered among citizens, and with the demand for green energy constantly falling, it makes sense that the amount you have to pay increases. The increasing electricity rates still remain a huge problem for families that are struggling to keep up with the constant hikes in hydro billing.

A solution has been offered up by Shawn-Patrick Stensil, a Greenpeace energy campaigner, and it sounds simple enough: let the government take down the Pickering nuclear station. However, despite the fact that cancelling a power contract sounds easy enough to do, it still means that the government will have to shell out billions of dollars to make it happen.

All things considered, it looks as though the government has a tough decision ahead of them. Due to previous multi-year contracts, the cost of lowering the hydro bills is farther off into the future than onewould hope.

Does this mean that Ontario citizens have lost all hope for more affordable hydro bills? Not exactly. The key is in maintaining responsible usage and applying changes that could significantly decrease your power consumption.

Applying small changes like turning off your lights and paying attention to peak power usage hours could help, but looking into more efficient heating solutions for the winter season, like making the switch from forced air heating to ambient floor heating, could reduce your hydro bills tenfold.

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