Will the next wave of Ontario's electric vehicles run on clean power?

TORONTO - Ontario’s political leaders are unanimously promoting electric vehicles (EVs) in their election platforms. But if the electricity that powers those vehicles continues to come from burning fossil fuels, the province won’t reap the full environmental benefit of EVs, the Ontario Clean Air Alliance says.

“If we’re going to get the maximum benefit of electric vehicles, we’ve got to have a clean electricity supply,” said Jack Gibbons, chair of the alliance.

The environmental advocacy group surveyed the province’s Progressive Conservative, Liberal, NDP and Green parties about where they stand on generating electricity from natural gas, a fossil fuel. Only three committed to phasing out Ontario’s gas plants.

The NDP promised an electricity grid with net-zero emissions by 2030. The Liberals pledged to bring electricity emissions "as close to zero as possible by 2030.” The Green Party plans to make Ontario’s electricity “emission-free as quickly as possible,” aiming for a gas phaseout by 2030. The Progressive Conservatives did not answer the survey and did not respond to requests for comment from Canada’s National Observer.

Affordability and reliability were the top concerns for all three parties that responded.

Ontario used to get 25 per cent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants. However, in 1997, Gibbons formed the alliance to campaign against coal, and the province’s last coal-fired plant closed in 2014, leaving Ontario with one of North America’s cleanest electricity systems. At the time, Gibbons said, transitioning to gas-fired electricity made sense.

Now, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives plan to double-down on gas-fired electricity generation to meet future demand. As a result, planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation will more than quadruple by 2030, according to Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO).

If that happens, Ontario will lose 30 per cent of the progress it made by phasing out coal.

“If you have an increasing percentage of your electricity generated with fossil fuels, that undermines the activities of a variety of sectors in the society,” said Peter Tabuns, NDP candidate for Toronto-Danforth and former NDP energy and climate critic. “Ford's position of not committing to greening the system undermines the goals.”

In 2020, the alliance spearheaded a campaign calling on the Ford government to phase out the province’s gas plants. Thirty-two municipalities supported the campaign. Many cities have said they will not be able to meet their own goals to fight climate change unless Ontario stops using fossil fuels for electricity.


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