By Alex Brown November 21, 2013
Some politicians in the U.S. are quick to distance themselves from the term “war on coal,” but leaders of Canada’s most-populous province went before the cameras Tuesday in a full-throated celebration of its new coal-free status.
The shutdown of Ontario’s last coal-burning plant—slated to happen before the end of this year—is the culmination of a goal set 10 years ago, when the province produced a quarter of its electricity with coal power. The milestone isn’t a stopping point, said Premier Kathleen Wynne, who used the event to propose a ban for all future coal-plant construction.
As if to erase any doubt Ontario is taking its cues from the environmental community, the province imported the planet’s most prominent climate campaigner to keynote the event. “Congratulations, Ontario, and thank you, Ontario,” said former Vice President Al Gore, launching into a somber portrayal of the effects of climate change. “Mother Nature is proclaiming the urgency of this crisis in ever more easily understandable tones.” But Ontario’s transition offers hope, he said. “If we were magically able to do in the world what Ontario is announcing today, then half the CO2 [currently in the atmosphere] would fall out in a single generation.”
So how did a province with a population larger than Illinois wean itself off coal in 10 years? A wide mix of alternative power sources, boosted by some government help, have filled the gap. Since 2003, Ontario has seen the completion of five nuclear projects, 12 natural gas projects, five hydropower projects, and 17 wind projects. Coal plants are being converted to run on natural gas and biomass.