One of the last coal-fired power plants in Ontario has been shut down early, bringing the province's Liberal government closer to fulfilling a long-delayed promise, industry and Queen's Park sources told The Globe and Mail.
Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli will announce Wednesday that the coal plant in Lambton, near Sarnia, Ont., finished operating in late September, three months ahead of schedule, the sources said. The government, which is on a long-term mission to replace all of the province's coal facilities with greener sources of energy, said in January that the Lambton plant, along with another in Nanticoke, would close by the end of the year.
But one source said the government moved the time-frame for Lambton up to the end of September, and the plant burnt its last coal Sept. 26. The source said the Nanticoke plant is set to keep burning until Dec. 31.
Mr. Chiarelli's office refused to confirm any of this information ahead of the announcement. Premier Kathleen Wynne's staff referred all questions to Mr. Chiarelli.
But data from the Independent Electricity System Operator data showed Lambton shuttered Tuesday, while Nanticoke was running at only a tiny fraction of its capacity for most of the day.
Former premier Dalton McGuinty made phasing out coal a key part of his wide-ranging environmental policy. But it was a difficult promise to keep. In 2003, the Liberals pledged to end coal in five years, by the end of 2007. They ultimately revised that pledge to 2014, and eventually to this year.
While removing coal from the mix cuts back on greenhouse-gas emissions, the Liberals have generally framed the exercise as a matter of cleaning up the province's air and reducing costs to the health-care system. The location of Mr. Chiarelli's announcement – St. Michael's Hospital in downtown Toronto – suggests that he will focus on this benefit.
In recent months, as the government moved to wind down Lambton and Nanticoke, the plants were essentially told to burn up whatever coal was left. John Sprackett, a spokesman for the Power Workers' Union, said the Lambton plant's supply was very low the last time he checked, while Nanticoke had a little more.
He urged the government to convert the sites into natural-gas plants.
"It would be cheap and easy," he said. "Good jobs and cheap power."
But the sources said they did not expect Mr. Chiarelli to unveil plans to turn the sites into gas plants. One source, however, said the Lambton plant could still be converted to gas in the future if the government changes its mind.
The province has decided not to build new nuclear reactors – citing a lack of demand – and plans instead to refurbish some existing ones. Since nuclear plants take much longer to build than gas-fired ones, if the need for energy turns out to be higher than expected, the government may have to set up new gas plants to plug the gap.
Besides Lambton and Nanticoke, Ontario has two other coal plants. One, in Atikokan in Northwestern Ontario, is in the process of being converted to biomass. The other, in Thunder Bay, continues to operate. The government once planned to convert it to natural gas, but has since suspended those plans.