Renewed debate over Ontario’s coal phase-out

By Spencer Van Dyk

Phasing out coal plants in Ontario to cut healthcare costs may have been an unnecessary and inflated expense, according to researchers.

In a report released Jan. 17 by the Fraser Institute — a left-leaning research organization — senior research fellow Ross McKitrick stated the health and environmental impacts of shutting down coal plants in Ontario have not been significant enough to warrant the financial cost of doing so.

For the purpose of the study, McKitrick focused on Ottawa, among a few other cities.

“This paper basically looks at the question of what it costs to transition, which was $1–1.5-billion, and the actual emissions, which were really negligible. They were statistically insignificant,” said Kenneth Green, the senior director of natural resource studies at the Fraser Institute. “Our 2005 prediction of all pain and no gain pretty much came true.”

According to Green, air pollution in Canada has been brought to such a low level in the last 40 years that people rarely suffer from negative health effects. He added that normal air pollution falls within Canadian health standards “an overwhelming majority of the time.”

Green said all the data for McKitrick’s report came from the government itself: from the National Air Pollution Surveillance Program as part of Environment and Climate Change Canada for pollution figures, and the auditor general for healthcare costs and the cost of phasing out coal plants.

Other experts have since advised wariness of McKitrick’s report, such as Greg Evans, a chemical engineer and the director of the Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research, who told iPolitics he found it far too simplistic. Experts also said coal phase-outs have in fact contributed to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, which McKitrick does not factor into his report.