Ontario planning to keep Pickering nuclear power station open until 2026

The Ford government is planning to extend the life of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station amidst a looming energy crisis.

Todd Smith, Ontario’s Minister of Energy, discussed the decision in Pickering on Thursday.

“Keeping Pickering safely operating will provide clean, low-cost, and reliable electricity to support the incredible economic growth and new jobs we’re seeing, while building a healthier Ontario for everyone,” Smith said in a release.

“Nuclear power has been the safe and reliable backbone of Ontario’s electricity system since the 1970s and our government is working to secure that legacy for the future.”

The province has to ask for the Canada Nuclear Safety Commission’s blessing to keep the power station open until 2026. The commission regulates safety within the nuclear energy industry.

Read more: Nuclear power station shut downs will leave Ontario relying on gas to generate electricity

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Ontario’s long-term energy planning had assumed Pickering would close in a phased shut-down beginning in 2024.

The plan is to keep the facility’s “A” units one and four operating until 2024 and “B” units five through eight until September 2026.

The province had asked Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to review their operational plans and they concluded that the station could continue to operate safely.

The province noted that further operation of the station beyond September 2026 “would require a complete refurbishment.”

The last feasibility study for that was conducted between 2006 and 2009 and the government has asked OPG to update its assessment for refurbishing Pickering’s “B” units based on updated information.

The province said refurbishment could result in an additional 30 years of operations.

“Keeping Pickering Nuclear Generating Station operational would ensure Ontario has reliable, clean, and low-cost energy while reducing CO2 emissions by 2.1 megatonnes in 2026,” the province said.

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“This represents an approximate 20 per cent reduction in projected emissions from the electricity sector in that year, which is the equivalent of taking up to 643,000 cars off the road annually.”

Last year, Pickering alone was responsible for 14 per cent of Ontario’s electricity. The province was preparing to makeup its nuclear power shortfall by increasing the use of natural gas.

OPG says the Pickering facility — responsible for 4,500 jobs — is “one of the largest nuclear stations in the world.” The province said in total, there are 7,500 jobs across Ontario related to the facility. It began operating in 1971.

Smith previously told Global News his priority was ensuring Ontario had an electricity grid that is “stable, reliable, affordable and one that’s clean.”

Pressed on the planned increased reliance on gas — and its emissions — Smith said reliability was his top priority.

“We have to make sure that it’s affordable and we have to make sure that it’s reliable,” he said.

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But the body that manages Ontario’s energy grid has predicted a spike in demand for electricity the province is not prepared for.

The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) said a growing supply gap of electricity is on the horizon, as broader electrification takes off, particularly in the transportation sector.

Demand from growth in electric vehicles and electrifying public transportation is expected to rise much more quickly starting in about 2035.

Around then, the projected gap between needed and available electricity is expected to hit 5,000 megawatts — enough to power five million homes — during the summer, even if all current power producers renew their contracts.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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