Environmentalists sounding alarm on future emission levels at Lennox Generating Station

·5 min read

Environmental legal agencies are alerting the public of Ontario Power Generation’s request for site specific air standards at its Lennox Generating Station near Bath that exceed current and incoming emission levels.

But the operator that runs the local station insists that any emissions the facility does generate are very infrequent.

On a Zoom call last week, the Canadian Environment Law Association (CELA) and Community Advocacy and Legal Centre told participants on the call that OPG has sought approvals from the province that would allow emissions from the plant that exceed Ontario’s current allowable limits, with more stringent standards incoming next year.

“(OPG is) looking at the forthcoming air standard for sulfur dioxide Ontario is introducing, which will be made more stringent -- 100 micrograms per cubic meter instead of 690 – (and) is asking the ministry to approve a site specific standard at Lennox of 2,026 micrograms per cubic meters for the first five years,” Theresa McClenaghan, executive director and counsel for CELA, said during the call. “The new hourly nitrous oxide standard will be 400 micrograms per meters cubed, and OPG is asking the ministry to approve 839 micrograms per cubic meter per hour. On sulphuric acid, (OPG is) asking for 7.6 micrograms per cubic meter instead of five.”

The Lennox Generating Station is primarily used for backup electricity when there’s heavy strain on the province’s main grid, for example during extreme heat or cold or due to outages. The plant produces electricity by burning natural gas or residual fuel oil to turn turbines, which then generate electricity into the grid.

However, the use of oil is very infrequent, said Neal Kelly, corporate communications director for OPG.

“Historically, Lennox runs almost exclusively on natural gas,” Kelly said in an interview on Monday. “When it's (running) on natural gas, it would not exceed the new standards that that the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks has put out. However, when it does run on oil, which is a small amount of time, it will exceed the new standard and under this new standard that the province is bringing in.”

Because of that, Kelly said, OPG has applied for the site specific exemption.

“Based on historic data for that generating station, over the last 11 years, 99% of the time we would not be above the new standard, but there are times we have to, and it's only when we have to run on oil, and that that pushes us over the new standard.”

McClenaghan suggested that while the Lennox station is currently used in a backup capacity, that could change as power needs increase with nuclear plants going offline.

“While it's not being used to supply a great deal of power now, nothing says it couldn't be used more in the future, particularly when the nuclear plants are coming offline like the Pickering plant coming to the end of its life span and the Darlington plant still undergoing refurbishment,” she said.

“OPG is generator, we don't operate the system,” Kelly said, noting that the Independent Electricity System Operator would determine how to redistribute electricity when there changes to the grid. “We don't plan for the system. The Independent Electricity System Operator, they tell all generators turn this unit on, turn that unit off, (which) happens in real time depending on the need.”

McClenaghan worries that if Ontario approves the OPG application, it sets a bad precedent at a time when provinces and countries are to be working toward greener futures.

“We do have a concern that (the Lennox) plant is still being utilized and using these fossil fuels to produce electricity,” she said. “Over the last several years, conservation has been curtailed. At one point, we were really aggressively pursuing more conservation in the province and it's been quite curtailed, particularly renewables,” McLenaghan said, adding that the agency worries that if Lennox gains approval, other plants will follow suit.

“We are concerned that if they're allowed, (we’ll see a) trend for more facilities to apply for them, especially with certain air standards being made more stringent by the province.”

Kelly said OPG take its commitment to the environment very seriously.

“OPG is very environmentally conscious,” he said. “Several years ago, we closed all of our coal stations, (which) was the world's largest action to combat climate change (at the time),” he said. “If you look at the electricity system in Ontario, it's very clean. If you look at OPG’s generating capacity, it is also very clean.

“The vast majority of the electricity that we produce has little or no emissions. It's nuclear or hydropower, a little bit of solar. There are obviously some emissions with our gas and obviously the Lennox situation there's some emissions with the gas/oil, but OPG operates in a lot of communities around the province and we would not be able to operate if we were not a good community member. We earn our licence in all of our communities and the Napanee area, Bath and Kingston is no exception.”

CELA, a specialty legal aid clinic whose mandate is to protect human health and environment, is encouraging residents to ask questions and voice their concerns over what it says is a dangerous precedent.

“We're really fortunate in Ontario because we have an Environmental Bill of Rights,” McClenaghan said. “One of the mechanisms that the bill of rights provides in terms of those aims of preventing and reducing and eliminating pollutants that are an unreasonable threat is the right to participate in environmentally significant decisions on the part of Ontario residents. So that’s what we’re encouraging (the public) to do.”

Information on potential pollution permits can be found online at ero.ontario.ca. The deadline for public feedback on the Lennox station application is Sept. 29.

“The public has the right to have comments considered and taken into account,” McClenaghan said.

Jan Murphy is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Belleville Intelligencer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

Jan Murphy, Local Journalism Initiative, Belleville Intelligencer