Ontario is now 100 percent coal-free, and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is leading the way in biomass conversion, which is creating power from renewable sources. OPG’s former coal-powered plant in Atikokan was the first in the province to be converted, and is now North America’s largest 100 percent biomass-fuelled power plant. “We didn’t want to waste the asset that we had in our coal power plants, and there was an advantage in the Atikokan generating station in that it was located close to a wood source,” says Tom Lumley, the Senior Manager of Strategic Initiatives at OPG.

Increasing energy security with bioenergy

Biomass can come from wood, agricultural waste products, or municipal waste, but in Ontario biomass is mostly converted into a wood pellet fuel, typically made from sawdust, which is burned to produce power. A new economy is being created, as local businesses were formed to produce the pellets and as bioenergy creates more jobs compared to other forms of power generation. In the past, most of the province’s coal was imported from the U.S., and today Ontario imports huge amounts of natural gas from south of the border. By expanding its bioenergy capacity, Ontario will produce cleaner energy and keep billions of dollars in the province, instead of importing energy.

The Nanticoke and Lambton stations, along with the vast forestry and biomass resources, offers a great opportunity for Ontario to create an integrated energy centre, like the Maabjerg facility currently being built in Denmark. The facility produces electricity and heat from biomass, as well as biogas and bioethanol, which not only lowers emissions, but also creates jobs and provides better energy security.

Biomass benefits

When biomass is sourced appropriately it can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “Getting off coal and reducing CO2 emissions was Ontario’s single largest climate change initiative,” says Lumley. “While there are still some emissions with the burning of biomass, studies indicate that it’s carbon neutral.”

Ontario is perfectly situated to tap into the bioenergy sector, because of the ready availability of biomass fuel. Lumley says there is a synergy between power generating companies and the forest industry, as they see the benefit in another wood product being used. Not only is bioenergy a renewable source, but electricity production can be increased or decreased depending on demand, which can’t be done for other renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar.

With bioenergy currently making up about one percent of Ontario’s electricity production, the opportunities to grow the sector and to provide more jobs locally is significant.