In Ontario, Going Coal-Free Costs Less Than a Coffee and a Donut

Fuels | Coal

karte-7-396How electricity generation from coal in Canada’s most populous province went from 25 percent to zero in just over a decade.

On April 8, 2014 the last remaining coal-fired power plant in Ontario, Canada was shut down for good, making Ontario the first jurisdiction in the world to phase out dirty coal-powered electricity completely for health and environment reasons.

How did Ontario’s electricity generation from coal go from 25 percent to zero in just over a decade?

It started with an alliance between doctors and environmentalists. For environmentalists, the benefits of shutting down coal-fired power plants were clear: phasing out coal in Ontario would be the single largest greenhouse gas emissions reduction initiative in North America, equivalent to taking 7 million cars off the road.

For doctors, the benefits were all down to the health of their patients. Family doctors in Ontario had been treating the negative effects of air pollution for years without connecting the dots back to the coal plants powering the province. In 1998, the Ontario Medical Association had declared air pollution to be a public health crisis. Then, a study came out indicating that air pollution from coal plants alone was killing over 600 Ontarians every year and doctors began to understand the deadly consequences of the problem. And the public listened, with increasing numbers of families joining doctors and environmentalists in pressuring legislators to respond. The result: the beginning stages of coal phase-out had begun.

How hard was this transition? The economist for the Ontario Clean Air Alliance found that a phase out of coal-fired power plants would cost $1.86 a month, less than a cup of coffee and a donut at the time.

The Ontario coal phase-out is an inspiring example of how individuals can successfully influence policy to protect public health and the environment. With this success as a blueprint, more cities, states, and provinces can follow Ontario’s footsteps and power their economies with healthier and cleaner energy. Starting right now.