Like all material coming out of the Ontario Ministry of Energy, Glenn Thibeault’s Thursday column requires careful scrutiny. With his sophomoric prose he attempts to refute the Fraser Institute’s report that concludes that closing the Nanticoke and Lambton coal generation stations had no statistical significant effect on air quality in Toronto and Hamilton. He fails.
To refute a scholarly report of this nature that uses statistical models, mathematics, graphs and properly structured data, one must do so on the same level. Name calling such as “well-known climate change denier” and appeals to anecdotal evidence such as “black smoke rising out of coal smoke stacks” doesn’t do it. Nor does an extensive list of dropped names or an emotional appeal to a child’s health issues. And incidentally, my home town is a few miles from Nanticoke and no black smoke came out of those stacks.
He begins by stating that the report is “arguing against reducing greenhouse gas emissions”. In fact, on reading the report one finds no such argument. One does find reference to planned massive reductions in emissions from the coal plants from modifications that died with the plants. The report does observe that the lost generation would have to be replaced largely by gas-fired plants which produce their own greenhouse gasses.
He is closer with his claim that “According to the report authors, closing Ontario’s coal plants had a negligible effect on emissions in our province”. The report actually states that “Overall our results show that phasing out coal in Ontario had small but detectable effects on particulates and ozone, but not NOx” and that “Phasing out coal had a moderate effect on fine particulates that was statistically insignificant in Toronto and Hamilton.”
When Glenn attempts to use data to argue a point, he employs a technique called “cherry picking” – selecting data that supports your argument. Unlike the report authors who cite their sources, he throws out some numbers without citation or context, rendering them useless. He then causally associates these numbers with improvement in our air quality and by extension, the shutdown of coal plants.
To whit, he cites 2005 with 53 smog days, which is the worst figure found in a table on the website of the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. Now Environment and Climate Change Canada lists the annual output of CO2 by the Nanticoke plant from 2004 to its final decommissioning in 2013. The plant produced slightly more CO2 in 2007 than 2005. One would then expect by his argument to see roughly the same number of smog days in 2007 as 2005; but that year had 26% fewer smog days. Oops.
The third highest number of smog days was in 2012 with 30, 43% fewer than 2005. However, at that point Nanticoke output had been cut by 89%. In 2006 when Nanticoke was at its peak, only 17 smog days occurred, and in 2009 there were only 5. So you can see that the Ontario coal plants had no determinable influence on the number of smog days when all the data is examined.
But we can tease out one more tidbit. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture shows the prevailing winds on hot days (smog producing days) in Southern Ontario as coming predominantly from the south west followed by the west and the south. This means that Windsor Ontario is upwind of both the Nanticoke and Lambton plants. But Windsor had more smog days in half the years shown than any other municipality listed, in Ontario. It tied for the most smog days in 4 of the remaining six years. So there’s a problem: Windsor’s smog can’t have come from coal generation in Ontario. Oops.