Ontario Coal Phase-out: All Pain, No Gain

Thanks to Dr. Ross McKitrick for telling the story: It’s official—Ontario’s coal phase-out was all for nothing which appeared in the Financial Post, January 17, 2017.  Excerpts below.

The federal Liberal government plans to impose a national coal phase-out, based on the same faulty arguments used in Ontario, namely that such a move will yield significant environmental benefits and reduce health-care costs. One problem—those arguments never made sense, and now with the Ontario phase-out complete, we can verify not only that they were invalid but that the Ontario government knew it.

First, ample data at the time showed that coal use had little effect on Ontario air quality. Environment Canada’s emissions inventories showed that the Ontario power generation sector was responsible for only a tiny fraction (about one per cent) of provincial particulate emissions, a common measure of air pollution.

Taken together these reports provided a credible basis for predicting that a coal phase-out would only have a small effect on our air quality. They also showed, based on the results of retrofits then underway at the power plants, that the same air quality improvements could be obtained at a fraction of the cost by installing scrubbers on the smokestacks, rather than shutting the coal-fired plants down.

Second, the government’s claims about the health effects of phasing out coal were highly implausible. It stated (and continues to assert) that coal plant emissions cost the province more than $3 billion annually in health-care costs. But this was at a time when the total provincial health-care budget was only about $35 billion annually. In other words, they claimed that nearly one-tenth of all health-care spending was due to illnesses and mortality arising from power plants that, again, were responsible for only about one per cent of annual particulate emissions.

Dr. Aliakbari and I analysed data for the cities of Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa over the 2002-2014 interval. Our statistical model allowed us to isolate the effects of declining Ontario coal use compared to changing emissions from other Canadian and U.S. sources and effects due to weather. In line with our expectations and the prior evidence, we found that phasing out coal was responsible for only very small changes in Ontario air pollution levels.

We did not look at greenhouse gases because they are not local air pollutants, only matter on a global level, and emissions could be offset by purchasing credits anywhere in the world. The climate issue was, and remains, a red herring in the discussion about the costs and benefits of eliminating coal.


Ontario is suffering a crisis of high and rising electricity costs that’s causing real, long-lasting damage to households and businesses. The province insists the pain is worth it because of the environmental improvements. The numbers show otherwise. Phasing out coal had almost no effect on Ontario’s air pollution levels—and the government at Queen’s Park knew this was likely to be the case. It has all been for nothing.

Ross McKitrick
Professor of Economics, University of Guelph

Two additional points

Firstly, in both the US and Canada, the real motivation is virtue-signalling, posing as fighters of climate change.  The US EPA is also infamous for bogus estimates of public health and air quality benefits to justify costly and onerous energy regulations.

When Ontario government rejected the anti-pollution scrubbers mentioned in the article above, Energy Minister Dwight Duncan said: “We’re not going to spend $1.6 billion on technology that doesn’t help climate change. That’s just dumb.”

Secondly, the result was worse than nothing. Ontario’s electricity rates are the fastest rising and among the highest in North America. Ratepayers are being mugged by the once friendly Reddy Kilowatt.

Ontario’s Hall of Pain

Ontario Climate Policy Refugees

Ontario Jammed by Rent-seekers and Ratepayers

Electrical Madness in Green Ontario



One comment

  1. oiltranslator · February 4, 2017

    They could always stop selling the output of CANDU reactors to thankless American Luddites in Bernieland. That would bring an internal surplus.


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