by Pete Danko:  For the first time, in 2012 wind narrowly beat out coal in electricity production in Ontario. But in another year, it will be no contest, because coal will be fading to black in the Canadian province: The government announced that the last two coal-fired power plants in southern Ontario would shut down by the end of 2013 – a year ahead of schedule.

Wind accounted for 4.6 terawatt-hours – 3 percent – of Ontario’s electricity production in 2012, compared to the 4.3 TWh, or 2.8 percent, that came from coal, according to the province’s grid operator.

ontario wind farm

That’s a remarkable change in a short period of time. In 2003, coal plants produced 36.6 TWh of electricity, one-quarter of the province’s electricity generation.

“We have already shut down 11 of 19 coal units. By the end of 2013 we will have shut down 17 out of 19,” the government said in a statement. “Ontario’s electricity sector greenhouse gas emissions will decrease dramatically as a result of becoming coal-free, from a high of 41.4 megatonnes in 2000 to only five megatonnes post-2020.”

Wind hasn’t risen as fast as coal has declined, but it’s been on a healthy upward trajectory, growing from 400 megawatts of capacity in 2006 to over 2,000 MW today.

“The move to eliminate dirty coal from the provincial power system makes Ontario a North American leader in both environmental performance and in supporting the development of a clean energy economy,” Robert Hornung, president of of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, said in a statement.

The 2009 Green Energy and Green Economy Act has driven Ontario’s renewable energy development.  A feed-in tariff – which requires the Ontario Power Authority to buy electricity from wind and solar producers at a competitive rate – “has helped create over 20,000 jobs and has led to contracts for more than 4,600 megawatts worth of clean energy,” according to the Sierra Club.

But it’s unclear if the law will stand in its present form. That FIT has come under attack internationally because it dictates that projects be built with minimum amounts of parts and services from Ontario. According to the CBC, wind and solar projects in Ontario built from 2009 to 2011 must have at least 25 per cent Ontario-made materials, with the requirement rising to 50 percent for projects in 2012 and beyond. Those provisions are under attack in the World Trade Organization by the European Union and Japan.