It’s time the provincial government admitted that they will never convert Lambton Generating Station to natural gas firing.
Although it last burned coal in 2013, the government has always held out hope of future jobs by maintaining that, in the future, it might convert two units at Lambton GS to burn natural gas or some renewable fuel.
But now the government needs to be honest with everyone and admit that those plans were never realistic, and that, unless there is some major catastrophe at one of our nuclear facilities, the conversion to natural gas is never going to happen.
Ensuring adequate system capacity is the responsibility of the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), and although it has typically played safe and over-estimated future demand, it is now indicating that it already has sufficient capacity planned.
In fact the IESO is allowing some currently operational gas fired plants to be shut down as their contracts expire over the next few years.
In addition, any conversion of Lambton would require investment in a new natural gas line and a substantial refit of its 45-year-old boilers and control systems. Even if we assume the furnaces are still in good condition, and coal firing is notoriously hard on the metal components of a furnace, the converted units would be highly inefficient compared to modern gas-turbine plants.
Not only would generation from Lambton cost more than that from almost any other natural gas fired source, but the plant couldn’t meet the federal CO2 emissions limit for new coal-fired generation (420kg/MWh), let alone the soon to be released federal limit on new gas fired generation.
We’ve been sold an idea that ceased to be realistic a long time ago and it’s now time that the government admitted that it isn’t going to happen, then perhaps we can finally accept it and move on to other opportunities.
Peter Smith is a retired nuclear engineer who lives in Sarnia. His experience includes working in various consulting capacities in the power generation industry.