03/14/2016 04:23 EDT | Updated 03/14/2016 04:59 EDT

Ontario's Nanticoke, North America's Former Largest Coal Plant, To Reopen As Solar Farm


A Conservative politician is calling it "lipstick on a pig," but community and business leaders in southern Ontario are hailing a plan to turn North America's largest coal-fired power plant into a solar farm.

The Nanticoke Generating Station, on the shore of Lake Erie, has been idle since 2013, when it was shut down as part of the province’s successful effort to eliminate coal from its energy mix.

Now the plant is set to reopen as the site of a wind farm that is being developed with the help of First Nations business leaders.

Ontario's Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) has granted Nanticoke Solar a permit to generate 44 megawatts of power on the site, one of 11 new renewable-energy projects that got the green light last week.

Nanticoke Solar is a joint venture of Sun Edison Canadian Construction and the business development corporation on the Six Nations reserve.

The project is "a great example of how countries are retiring coal plants and replacing them with clean, renewable power plants,” said Sun Edison’s Canadian manager, Michelle Chislett, as quoted at the Simcoe Reformer.

Photo: Canadian Press

The Brantford Expositor described the mood on the Six Nations reserve as “jubilant” following the decision.

"The project aligns with our community values of sustainability and environmental prosperity,” Matt Jamieson, president and CEO of Six Nations Development Corp., told the newspaper.

“Investing in clean energy benefits the people of Six Nations economically without compromising our children's future.”

A ‘Symbolic’ Power Plant?

The solar farm will be a much smaller operation than the old coal plant: It will produce 44 megawatts of electricity, or little more than one per cent as much as the nearly 4,000 megawatts the old coal plant generated.

For that reason, local Progressive Conservative MPP Toby Barrett calls the solar farm a “symbolic” move.

“It will be a good photo-op for [Ontario Premier] Kathleen Wynne to let environmental extremists know that she has replaced the coal pile with solar panels. And when they get around to knocking down the stacks, that’ll be another photo-op,” Barrett told the Reformer.

Barrett highlighted the higher cost of renewable energy, noting that Nanticoke coal-fired electricity used to cost 2 cents per kilowatt hour. According to the Globe and Mail, the average that IESO will pay for electricity from these new contracts will be 15.67 cents per kilowatt hour.

Progressive Conservative MPP Toby Barrett calls the Nanticoke Solar project "lipstick on a pig." (Canadian Press photo)

The MPP noted that Nanticoke used to employ some 630 people when it was in operation. There are no estimates available for employment at the new solar farm, but a 44-megawatt property is likely to employ far fewer people than a 4,000-megawatt coal plant.

Barrett said the province doesn’t need to add more electricity generating capacity at the moment.

“This is all cosmetic – like lipstick on a pig,” he said.

But Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt says it’s better than a closed coal plant -- and he hopes to see more development on the site.

“It’s a long way from where we once were,” Hewitt said, as quoted at the Reformer.

“We know there are many more opportunities available with that property and hope that the province keeps it in mind for future projects. ... It’s a step in the right direction.”

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