Ontario's Coal-Free Plan Progresses

By Anna Simet | December 19, 2013

Early this year, I wrote an article on the conversion of Ontario’s Atikokan Generating Station to wood pellets. With that conversion and the October closing of the 2,000-MW Lambton Generating Station, two coal-fired power stations were left operating in the province—Nanticoke Generating Station, the largest coal-fired power plant in North America at 2,760 MW, and the 300-MW Thunder Bay Generating Station.

Nanticoke is scheduled to be fully shut down by the end of the year (though the government has said in the future, refueling some of its eight generators with biomass and/or natural gas may be an option), and just recently it was officially announced that the Thunder Bay Generating Station will be converted to biomass by 2015. An initial plan to repower it with natural gas was cancelled.

The Thunder Bay Generating Station is operated by Ontario Power Generation, which says it will be the first advanced biomass station in the world that was formerly a coal plant. I wasn’t exactly sure what “advanced biomass station” meant and thought it meant torrefied material, but I was wrong. I checked in with Chris Fralick, plant manager of Thunder Bay, and he said it meant steam-exploded technology. Thunder Bay will be issuing an RFP for a fuel supply in the year, according to Fralick, and it will define the fuel required.

A 100-percent advanced fuel test burn was done at the plant in September, and OPG deemed it successful.

Once repowered, the plan for Thunder Bay is to operate at half its generating capacity of 300 MW under a five-year contract. It is being argued by some groups that won’t be enough power to meet the region’s demands (which is hard not to believe, considering the loss of nearly 5,000 MW of coal capacity), and that at the end of the contract, the plant should not be retired, but converted to natural gas or a mix of both fuels.

Modifications to Thunder Bay are to begin in 2014, and the plant is expected to be running on biomass in 2015.

All of this aligns with the government’s target to be coal free by the end of 2014, a goal that it will achieve early.  Ontario may be just one province but it is a very large mass of land going coal free, at one-tenth the size of Canada, twice the size of Texas, and more than four times the size of the U.K.

Ontario has really raised the bar when it comes to combatting air pollution and fossil-fuel dependence. You can count on Biomass Magazine to keep you updated on its continued progress.

Happy Holidays!