NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 13, 2005

The Ontario Ministry of Energy released its evaluation of the Government of Ontario's proposal to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2007. The study is the Government?s response to a previous study by the Fraser Institute, "Pain without Gain: Shutting Down Coal-Fired Power Plants Would Hurt Ontario."

Kenneth Green, a coauthor of the Fraser study and a member of the Canadian Statistical Assessment Service (CANSTAT) Board of Advisers, says that the Ministry of Energy report acknowledges that non-coal power will be more expensive. However, it is on the benefits side where the two reports diverge. According to Green, the Ministry calculates the benefits of reducing air pollution that are not plausible.

Furthermore, says Green, the Ministry Report:

  • Relies on risk factors produced by what are, literally, exercises in mining large data sets to look for coincidences: small statistical correlations between air pollution and the number of people dead or hospitalized on a given day.
  • Ignores studies that dispute their claims of air pollution risk and relies heavily on the Harvard Six Cities Study, which researchers have shown is of limited value and fails to account for non-air-pollution causation.

Moreover, he says, there is no question coal-fired power plants contribute to Ontario's air pollution emissions. The question, he says, is whether the harm associated with these emissions exceeds the social and economic benefits of the electricity they provide.

In reviewing the evidence, the authors of "Pain Without Gain," suggest the coal-fired plants have a relatively small environmental impact and closing them will have large, adverse economic consequences that will fall disproportionately on low-income households, far outweighing any environmental or health benefit.

Source: Kenneth Green, "Will Ontarians Breath Easier When Coal Power is Gone?" Canadian Statistical Assessment Service (CANSTAT), May 10, 2005; and Kenneth Green, Ross McKitrick and Joel Schwartz, "Pain Without Gain: Shutting Down Coal-Fired Power Plants Would Hurt Ontario," Fraser Institute, January 2005; and DSS Management Consultants Inc. and RWDI Air Inc., "Cost Benefit Analysis: Replacing Ontario?s Coal-Fired Electricity Generation," Ontario Ministry of Energy, April, 2005.


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