Jack Gibbons Gaslights on Nuclear’s role in fighting Climate Change
Jack Gibbons, the chairman of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA) in a Sept 25th OpEd in the Toronto Sun claimed that “Nuclear Power [is] no solution to climate change.” In fact, Ontario has some of the cleanest and lowest carbon electricity in the world thanks to nuclear power, which provides 65% of our electricity generation.
Indeed, it was the reactivation of six CANDU reactors that provided 90% of the ultra low emissions power needed to phase out coal from our grid. This has been called the greatest greenhouse gas reduction measure in North America. Ontario’s electricity emissions dropped by 80% compared to 2005, and smog days declined from 53 in 2005 to zero in 2014 thanks in no small part to nuclear energy.
The great tragedy for Jack Gibbons and the OCAA, which received substantial donations from Enbridge and Union gas in the early 2000’s, seems to be that the coal phaseout was accomplished with zero air pollution, ultra low emissions nuclear instead of natural gas.
As the chairman of the OCAA, Jack Gibbons has taken some positions that seem contrary to the stated goal of his organization. For example, the OCAA lobbied for natural gas as the “transition fuel” to replace coal. In 2009 when residents of Oakville protested natural gas plants being built in their backyards, Gibbons, the champion of clean air, gaslighted them. He explained that “Exhaust stacks are typically high enough to disperse pollutants beyond the immediate area and it makes sense to generate power as close as possible to where it is consumed.”
Since winning their battle against coal, the OCAA has turned its sights on nuclear energy in Ontario. They argue that it should be replaced by wind, solar, and hydroelectricity from Quebec. Beyond the bizarre idea of making Ontario dependent on the whims of Quebec and thousands of kilometers of high voltage transmission lines, there simply isn’t enough power in Quebec during the winter months. Quebec heats with electricity and routinely imports Ontario electricity during its cold snaps to stay warm. Why replacing one low carbon power source with another in the context of a climate emergency instead of using Quebec hydro to phase out dirty coal and gas elsewhere is an interesting question for the OCAA to ponder.
Gibbons argues that costs for wind and solar are outcompeting natural gas. It seems that he doesn’t know Jack about the grid. Solar in Ontario produces at 15% of its installed capacity and almost nothing in the winter. Wind produces about 30% of its installed capacity almost all of it out of sync with our summer air conditioning peak seasonal demand. Both wind and solar produce erratically at the whim of mother nature and as a result require natural gas backup, which dramatically increases their emissions profile.
Ontario has existing, extremely well functioning CANDU reactors like those at Pickering whose 3 billion watt output produces enough energy to power the average electricity needs of the city of Toronto. We are doing the right thing by refurbishing our CANDU fleet at Darlington and Bruce. Unfortunately, refurbishment plans for Pickering were sidelined to pursue a massive wind, solar and gas build out as part of the Green Energy Act and it is now scheduled to be closed in 2024.
Gibbons wants to blanket Ontario with thousands of industrial wind turbines and millions of solar panels, and rely on Quebec to attempt to fill in the resulting daily and seasonal gaps in electricity.
The Ontario government needs to reevaluate its decision not to refurbish Pickering Nuclear Station. To anyone genuinely concerned about clean air and the climate, it should come as a tragedy that its output will otherwise be replaced with 5.9 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year.
According to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, 7590 direct and indirect jobs providing $747 million in annual wages are at stake if we let Pickering close. The CANDU refurbishment supply chain and its highly skilled workforce is 95% based in Ontario. Every dollar spent on Pickering’s refurbishment would stay in Ontario, providing us with the dignified high paying jobs in science, technology, engineering and the skilled trades that sustain our economy. The same cannot be said for low paying temporary jobs installing “made in China” solar panels.
Refurbishing Pickering has all the ingredients of a truly green recovery. Environmental organizations like the OCAA need to come to terms with the fact that Ontario has some of the cleanest and lowest carbon electricity in the world thanks to nuclear. Let’s keep it that way.