The electricity crisis in Leamington, Ontario
Why Canada’s greenhouse hotspot lacks the required electricity and what’s being done to solve the problem.
October 27, 2022 By Treena Hein
There is a severe electricity shortage in the Leamington, Ont. area, affecting not only greenhouse operators but also the communities in which they reside, says Rob Petro, the Energy, Infrastructure and Environment lead at Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG).
The situation presents worries about any issue that may affect existing infrastructure that’s already strained, and is also holding back business expansions.
“The Kingsville-Leamington subsystem has historically, for the past 20 years, exceeded existing capacity,” says Petro. “Growth spurred by greenhouses in the area is expected to quadruple electricity demand in the region over the next 15 years, adding further pressure to an already-strained transmission system in Windsor-Essex. And with environmentally-driven electrification priorities, we understand that the demand will only grow.”
In April, the Government of Ontario announced prioritized development of five new electricity transmission projects in southwestern Ontario (see sidebar) “to support the growth in the manufacturing and greenhouse sectors.” All this will be funded by $1 billion of taxpayers’ dollars, and will be developed in phases through 2030.
Electricity demands in the Windsor-Essex and Chatham areas alone, states the press release, “are forecasted to grow from roughly 500 MW of peak demand today to about 2,100 MW in 2035, which is about the equivalent of adding a city the size of Ottawa to the grid. In the Kingsville-Leamington area alone, there is currently a queue of customers waiting to connect to the electricity grid, demonstrating the need for the timely development of new electricity infrastructure in the region.”
The government has issued an Order-in-Council declaring three transmission line projects as priorities, streamlining the Ontario Energy Board’s (OEB) regulatory approval process for these lines. The priority declaration requires the OEB to accept that the three initial lines are needed when assessing whether the projects are in the public interest, expediting the review process so projects can be brought online earlier. The Minister of Energy has also directed the OEB to amend the transmission license of Hydro One, requiring it to undertake development work and seek approvals for four of the identified transmission lines.
Petro says these projects will help, even though much of the electricity is already subscribed. “OGVG has expressed and voiced the critical need for electricity in the region to the IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator), OEB and the Ontario Ministry of Energy, and they have all listened,” he reports. “The government and agencies have and are acting to expedite the existing projects and work with stakeholders to provide the needed electricity to the region… the speed of business is very fast, and government has been working diligently to keep up and provide support, for which we are very thankful.”
Michael Dodsworth spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Energy says development of these new lines is informed by multiple planning studies undertaken in recent years by the IESO, which worked closely with local stakeholders.
“These projects are anticipated to come into service in a phased approach, with the Chatham to Lakeshore Line coming into service in 2025, followed by the St. Clair Line in 2028, and the first Longwood to Lakeshore Line in 2030,” he says. “However, given Ontario’s recent success at attracting unprecedented investments in the electric vehicle battery sector, Hydro One is looking for opportunities to bring these lines into service earlier.”
Dodsworth adds that in addition to the first Longwood to Lakeshore line, the IESO has identified the potential need for a second Longwood-to-Lakeshore circuit and a line running from the Windsor area to Lakeshore. “The IESO is currently gathering new information about future demand as well as the results of upcoming competitive procurements of generation resources which will inform the timing and scope of these projects,” he says. “Notwithstanding, Ontario has directed the OEB to obligate Hydro One to commence development work of these projects. This will ensure the transmitter has a headstart on these projects if they are needed in the future.”
CHP use – and potential
As Petro explains, Combined Heat and Power (CHP), also known as cogeneration, is the ideal solution for greengrowers because it provides electricity, heat and critically needed CO2 to feed the plants. “For this reason, some call CHP tri-generation,” he says. “The high density of plants within a greenhouse means supplementation of CO2 is critical for healthy, robust and productive crops. CHP is the greenest way to use fossil fuels as the CO2 produced is being used to produce food. The benefit is that the electricity produced with CHP supports both the greenhouse business and the needs of local communities.”
T&T Power Group in Wellesley, Ont. has been involved in several CHP greenhouse projects in the province.
“Southwestern Ontario, including the Leamington area, has kept our power solutions team busy for several years now,” reports Tilo McAlister, T&T Power Group’s head of strategic marketing. “A boom in greenhouse construction and expansion, fuelled in part by the legalization of cannabis a couple years ago, has had system operators scrambling to provide additional power to the area. Grid-side power quality and capacity problems have been two of the worst headaches for the region’s large energy consumers, and have been a major driver for private investment into distributed energy resources like our CHP generators.”
In 2021, T&T Power Group commissioned a 2-MW CHP for an unnamed greenhouse operation in Kingsville Ont., without which, says McAlister, the owner would not have been able to turn the lights on in his new six-acre state-of-the-art tomato range. McAlister explains that capacity constraints on the transmission system serving the area meant that there simply wasn’t any additional power available at the service location – a very common story among local growers.
“We designed and built the system around two 1-MW Siemens Energy gas engines in an islanded configuration,” he says. “That means that the new range is completely isolated from the grid, and 100 per cent of the electricity needed to power the grow lights is supplied by the generator. Thermal energy in the form of hot water is also recovered from the engine exhaust and coolant, and fed into the greenhouses’ existing thermal storage, making the project attractive environmentally and financially.”
The whole system is packaged inside two compact 40’ containers that sit outdoors on a concrete slab beside the facility’s electrical room. This minimizes installation costs.
Another T&T Power Group customer in southwestern Ontario chose to ditch the grid completely and take their entire 4-MW load off the line due to constant voltage dips, brownouts and other power quality issues. Since 2019 they have been running on generator power 24/7, which has proved to be far more reliable than the local utility company’s service, says McAlister, and at a very reasonable cost.
In addition, CHP use in Canada’s greenhouse industry is spreading beyond Ontario, says McAlister.
“While other jurisdictions may not have quite the same gap between supply and demand for electricity that we see around Leamington, CHP as a solution for greenhouse growers in Alberta has been quietly growing, and we have a number of promising projects developing,” he reports. “Due to Alberta’s reliance on fossil fuels for the majority of their power generation mix, CHP can be a slam dunk for growers in the province looking to lower their GHG emissions while reducing cost and dependence on the grid.”
He adds that this is why Emissions Reduction Alberta is currently offering “substantial funding” for the installation of new CHP systems.
The five transmission projects being accelerated by the Ontario government:
- The Chatham to Lakeshore Line, a 230-kilovolt line from Chatham Switching Station to the new Lakeshore Transformer Station currently under construction in the municipality of Lakeshore.
- The St. Clair Line, a 230-kilovolt line from Lambton Transformer Station, south of Sarnia to Chatham Switching Station.
- The Longwood to Lakeshore Line, a 500-kilovolt line from Longwood Transformer Station, west of London, to the new Lakeshore Transformer Station.
- A second 500-kilovolt line from Longwood Transformer Station to Lakeshore Transformer Station, with scope to be further refined through planning by the IESO.
- A 230-kilovolt line that would run from the Windsor area to Lakeshore Transformer station, with scope to be further refined through planning by the IESO.
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