Ontario will have shut down 17 of 19 coal-fired power plants by the end of this year. By the end of 2014, the province will be one of the first places in the world to completely eliminate coal as a source of electricity production. This remarkable accomplishment was aided in a significant way by the addition of clean and cost-effective wind energy.
In fact, Ontario's Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) now considers wind energy a mainline power source in Ontario. Supplying more than 3 per cent of the province's electricity last year, wind energy has now surpassed coal, and the IESO projects that wind energy's contribution will continue to grow significantly over the next few years. There are valid reasons why Ontario is phasing out the use of dirty coal power, chief among them the fact that it is both a key producer of greenhouse gas emissions and seriously harmful to our health. Wind energy provides electricity without emitting greenhouse gases or air pollutants and uses no fresh water, creating a healthier environment for people and wildlife.
Wind energy has been the world's fastest-growing mainstream source of electricity generation for more than a decade. Global installed wind energy capacity increased by 19 per cent in 2012, reaching 282,000 megawatts. Canada now ranks ninth globally in total installed capacity, with more than 6,500 megawatts of wind energy in operation – producing enough power each year to meet the needs of approximately two million homes.
Ontario is a North American leader in wind energy development at a time when the province – like most jurisdictions – is in the midst of updating decades-old electricity systems. According to a report issued this month by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Electricity in Canada: Smart Investment to Power Future Competitiveness, "Canada's electricity sector is embarking on a decades-long period of transition that will see a move away from fossil fuel-based thermal generation to an electricity system that is heavily weighted towards non-emitting, renewable sources of electricity."
In terms of cost, wind energy is a smart choice and getting better all the time. The cost of wind energy is known and transparent under the province's Feed-in-Tariff program, and the cost to build wind energy continues to decline. All-in pricing currently places wind energy at a rate of 11.5 cents per kilowatt hour in Ontario, making it cost-competitive with virtually all other sources of electricity generation except for natural gas. While natural gas is currently the cheapest form of electricity generation, balancing natural gas with a mix of wind and other renewable sources of electricity will serve to both reduce environmental impacts and enhance long-term price stability, while also facilitating the integration of variable renewable energy generation.
There is arguably no other form of energy currently contributing and dispersing economic benefits in as many rural communities across Ontario at the scale of wind energy. It generates hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenues, payments to farmers and landowners and community vibrancy funds. Wind projects also create new opportunities for local contractors and service providers before, during and after construction.
When it comes to views, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Denmark, a small country with significantly more wind energy than Ontario, meets about 25 per cent of its electricity demand with wind and continues to see more than 80 per cent public support for further wind energy development.
Here in Ontario, we will soon be forced to make a choice with respect to future electricity investment. An expanded role for wind energy will continue to be a smart long-term option based on cost, environmental protection and the distribution of economic benefits to rural communities.
Robert Hornung is the president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association.