Ontario is ramping up the use of gas plants in the middle of a climate crisis instead of making the sensible decision and switching to renewable sources. One of those gas plants is in Toronto. The Portlands gas plant was built in 2008 and was designed as a peaker gas plant, meaning that it would only operate a few hours per month when electricity demand was high. However, since fall 2023, it has been running almost 21 hours a day spewing harmful pollutants into the air that local residents have to breathe. Unfortunately, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), the body responsible for operating the electricity market in Ontario, doesn’t plan on phasing out gas until 2050 which is far too late. The IESO should switch to  renewable sources of electricity and plan to phase out the Portlands gas plant as soon as possible.

We know that the plant emits nitrogen oxides (NOx) which are known to cause asthma in young children and cause difficulty breathing for people with respiratory illnesses. Gas plants also emit greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, which we know have been linked to wildfires. Last year, Canadians experienced the horrible effects of climate change with over 18 million hectares of forest burned. Wildfire season has begun, and experts expect it will be another catastrophic year. 

Since Premier Ford came to power in 2018, gas plant use has tripled in Ontario. Similarly, the IESO plans to provide 25 per cent of the electricity we need from burning gas for the next six years, up from just 4 per cent in 2017. We have cheaper, cleaner options available to us now, such as wind and solar. Why aren’t we building more and increasing their capacity? The world is going through an energy transition yet the Ontario government is stuck in the past. 

When the Ontario government came to power in 2018, they cancelled 750 renewable energy projects at a cost of over $230 million. This is not the work of a fiscally responsible government. Nor is this the work of a government that wants to keep energy costs down. This is a government bent on supporting its friends and big businesses like Enbridge, not ordinary people, not the environment and certainly not our children and grandchildren. 

According to the 2023 National Inventory Report of greenhouse gases (GHG) in Canada, the majority of the emissions increase from 2021 can be attributed to Ontario. Total GHG emissions for Canada have increased by 10 megatonnes (Mt) since 2021, with 6 Mt coming from Ontario alone. Ontario’s usage of natural gas was also singled out in the inventory. The province is driving up electricity sector emissions due to an increased reliance on natural gas.

In 2023, Toronto City Council voted no, twice, against the expansion of the Portlands Energy Centre. Similarly, Environmental Defence, the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, the Ontario Climate Emergency Campaign and other local environmental groups are leading opposition against the expansion and ongoing operation of this plant, yet our cries are falling on deaf ears

Building solar and wind farms could take as little as 6 months to 2 years. Offshore Wind projects alone can supply Ontario with all of its electricity needs. As fast as Toronto is growing, we can grow our supply of renewable energy quickly while protecting our health and preventing further extreme weather events like the wildfires we experienced last year. There is no need for gas plants in this province and especially in downtown Toronto. It’s time to shut down the Portlands gas plant and replace it with readily available renewable energy sources.