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Great Lakes Article:

Three plants spew bulk of pollutants

Documents reveal which contaminants come from individual power generators


MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT
The Globe and Mail
04/16/2002

Three large coal-fired power plants in Southern Ontario produce 83 per cent of all the harmful air pollutants from the province's electric-power sector, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

In the first full look at air emissions from the province's 143 generating facilities, the coal plants -- located near Toronto, Simcoe and Sarnia -- stand out because they produced 24 million tonnes of contaminants that cause global warming, acid rain, smog, and heavy-metal poisoning in wildlife.

The bulk of the pollutants, tracked over an eight-month period in 2000, are carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, but they also include nerve poisons, such as mercury, that are toxic to humans and wildlife even in small concentrations.

The figures also show that the province's publicly owned utility, Ontario Power Generation, is the worst polluter, producing the lion's share of the emissions, with nearly 91 per cent of the total.

The company that was the next-largest emitter, TransAlta Cogen LP, produced only 1.4 per cent.

Ontario Power is such a big polluter partly because it generates the bulk of the province's electricity, and partly because of its use of coal to carry out this task.

The Ontario Ministry of Environment has been quietly collecting data since May, 2000, but has not yet made them public.

The emission records were obtained using the right-to-know law by Environmental Defence Canada, a non-profit conservation group, which plans to issue the government's full file of data of power-plant emissions today on its Web site -- http://www.airwatch.ca.

Environmental Defence says the figures highlight the need to curb use of coal for electricity generation because coal -- the dirtiest of the fossil fuels -- accounts for almost all the air pollution from the sector.

Coal stations typically produce from 25 per cent to 30 per cent of Ontario's electricity needs, indicating that they cause a disproportionate share of the sector's air pollution.

The rest of Ontario's electricity production is relatively clean because it is generated using nuclear and hydroelectric power, two sources that do not have large degrees of air-polluting emissions.

The group estimates that converting the province's coal-fired electricity plants to cleaner-burning natural gas could have a major environmental impact, a single step that would meet half of the emission reductions required by Ontario to achieve targets set by the Kyoto Protocol.

"It's clearly time to phase out coal," said Burkhard Mausberg, executive director of the group.

The group hopes that electricity buyers will use the information on emissions to buy power from low-emission producers when Ontario's power market opens to competition next month.

Pollutants from the coal-fired stations are a major health threat. The stations produce fine-particle aerosols that can penetrate deep into lung tissue, causing asthma, heart attacks, and chronic bronchitis. They also emit compounds that cause smog.

Ontario has Canada's most extensive requirements for electricity producers to track their harmful emissions.

But Environmental Defence says the province's rules are flawed because the government does not immediately released the data it collects, forcing the use of freedom-of-information legislation to obtain the records.

The data covers only the first eight months of reporting.

Top polluters

Among the top 10 of 143 generating facilities, three coal plants near Toronto, Simcoe and Sarnia release 83 per cent of the air pollutants that power production contributes to smog, global warming, acid rain and wildlife poisoning.
Per cent of total release by power plants

Ont. Power Generation (Nanticoke) 51.9%
Ont. Power Generation (Lambton) 25.73%
Ont. Power Generation (Lakeview) 5.47%
Ontario Power Generation (Thunder Bay) 3.9%
Ontario Power Generation (Atikokan) 2.06%
Ontario Power Generation (Lennox) 1.9%
AES Kingston Inc. 1.09%
Sithe Energies Inc. 1.08%
Down Chemical Canada Inc. 1.06%
Kirkland Lake Power Corp. 0.87%
Source: http://www.airwatch.com


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