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November 21, 2013

Ontario, Canada, Goes Coal-Free


Today Ontario, Canada, is showcasing a path for a world working to prevent runaway climate change. Today, Ontario retired their last coal-fired power plant. Part of a bold plan launched by former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in 2003 to cut pollution in the province, this is great news for everyone who loves clean air and who works to provide a safe and liveable planet for future generations.
What's more, the steps Ontario has taken over the past decade to retire its five coal-fired power plants are a great guide for the U.S. in making a speedy transition to a modern, clean, carbon-free energy system.

What can we learn from Ontario?

1) Be honest about the costs of coal. In 2003 Ontario looked at the full cost of coal, both the costs of coal-generated electricity, and the health costs the province was paying related directly to the health costs of burning coal. An honest accounting concluded that coal is among the most expensive ways to generate electricity.  

2) Be bold. Long before other states and cities were talking about phasing out coal, then Premier McGuinty announced he would lead the effort to replace all the coal plants in a decade. This took a lot of courage, but also a profound belief in our scientists and engineers to imagine and build a coal-free electricity sector.  

3) Invest heavily in energy efficiency. The province demonstrated that the cheapest source of power is efficiency, or reduced demand. In fact, according to Scientific American, these savvy actions made Ontario one of the first places in the world where energy demand began to decline, rather than increase.

4) Provide clear and fair rules for clean energy developers. With a clear roadmap and and balanced incentives wind power quintupled over the past 6 years in Ontario. Today wind and energy efficiency will make up much of the replacement for the retiring coal plants. A carbon-free grid is now within reach, as clean energy continues to grow and will back out the remaining natural gas.

This move by Ontario is the latest in a string of great clean energy news across North America. Last week the Tennessee Valley Authority announced the retirement of 3,300 megawatts of coal power in the Southeastern U.S. Earlier in 2013, Los Angeles and Chicago both announced they were going coal-free, with L.A. even announcing a major solar power deal with the Moapa Band of Paiutes in Nevada. The U.S. has been ditching coal (as fast as its investors), because a mix of hard-hitting grassroots advocacy, new EPA protections, and rising coal prices, has brought about the retirement or announced retirement of 155 coal plants.

With the largest grassroot environment movement in the U.S. working together to de-carbonize the electric sector, activists are fighting for clean energy and climate solutions from coast to coast. In the past week activists in Florida and Arizona rallied for solar power; North Dakota approved a new wind farm; Sudbury, Massachusetts just flipped the switch on a solar array that will save the city $100,000 annually.

This is also the latest in a string of great clean energy news across the globe. Sparked by the President's climate action plan which called for an end to public financing of coal overseas, the United Kingdom and multilateral banks like the World Bank and the European Investment Bank have also stopped throwing taxpayer dollars at dirty coal projects. These governments and institutions will instead be investing in clean, renewable energy.

While coal has powered the U.S. economy for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, we now know it is the leading source of climate disruption, it pollutes our air and makes our kids sick, and it has no place in a modern, high-tech economy. We live in the most innovative country on earth -- the first country to put a man on the moon, the nation that brought the Internet to the world. Our neighbors to the north are showcasing leadership. Let's build on their leadership, our incredible progress here in the U.S., and get to 100 percent clean energy in less than two decades. I know we can.

-- Bruce Nilles, Senior Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign


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