How Ontario Power Generation Will Become a Net-Zero Company by 2040

How Ontario Power Generation Will Become a Net-Zero Company by 2040

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Canadian utility Ontario Power Generation (OPG) released its first-ever Climate Change Plan in late 2020.

The National Hydropower Association recently asked OPG’s Nicolle Butcher, Senior Vice President, Renewable Generation & Energy Markets, to answer questions about the plan and provide insights into how the utility is implementing it … and what that means for the utility’s hydro resources, job opportunities within the industry, and affected stakeholders.

Butcher is one of four executives featured in a roundtable discussion, From the Boardroom – How Generation Asset Owners Think about Hydro Policy, during NHA’s upcoming Waterpower Week

NHA: In announcing its Climate Change Plan, OPG emphasized it is the “first ever” plan. But, in reality, OPG’s commitment to striving for clean energy is not new. Why is this the “first ever” plan? 

Nicolle Butcher: Clean energy is in our DNAAs Ontario’s largest power generator and clean technology innovator, we believe OPG is well positioned to become a net-zero carbon company by 2040. While we have a long history in clean energy, this is the firstever climate plan geared toward achieving net zero. Our plan includes ambitious goals that will guide our promise to be a catalyst for efficient, economy-wide decarbonization and economic renewal, while at the same time protecting the environment. 

For decades, OPG’s world-class workforce has quietly led the charge, devising the blueprint for a carbon-free future. With our coal closure, conversion of the Atikokan generating station to renewable biomass, the Darlington nuclear refurbishment, the expansion of our hydro generating assets, and through clean power partnerships like the Nanticoke solar facility and the Peter Sutherland Sr. generating station, we are already one of the most diverse, experienced generators in the world but we’re ready to do more. 

In addition, OPG will be a leading energy innovation company, advancing clean technologies and solutions to help the markets where we operate achieve netzero carbon economies by 2050. 

NHA: Traditionally, the concepts of “protecting the environment” and “economic development (job creation, new industries, etc.)” haven’t necessarily gone hand-in-hand. Yet, that seems to be the strategy for OPG. When you announced the new clean energy plan, your CEO said: “Our plan aims to address climate change in a way that will help create new jobs, nurture new industries that protect the environment and make our economy stronger for current and future generations.” Could you share some specific examples of how you will do that? 

Butcher: Addressing the climate change crisis will require innovative solutionsOPG is looking to develop and deploy new technologies to speed up Ontario’s energy transformation, while balancing economic, environmental benefits, and Ontario’s electricity needs 

Below are some examples. 


While hydro has always been a major source of Ontario’s energy supply, several of our hydro facilities are over 100 years old and approaching end-of-life. OPG is committed to reinvesting in our hydroelectric fleet to sustain and, where possible, grow generation from this clean, renewable power source in the years and decades ahead. 

In addition to investing in Ontario’s hydro generation facilities, OPG owns 85 hydro facilities in the United States. We will continue to look to grow this portfolio and increase generation at our US facilities. By supporting the United States’ transition to a cleaner energy mix, OPG can make a further contribution toward carbon reductions. 


According to an independent report by the Conference Board of Canada, the Darlington refurbishment project and the subsequent 30 more years of station operation, are expected to generate a total of $89.9 billion in economic benefits for Ontario, create 14,200 jobs per year, and boost personal income by an average of $1.6 billion on an annual basis. 

With 96% of project costs spent in the province and a heavy reliance on Ontario-based contractors, for every $1 spent on the project, Ontario’s GDP will increase by an average of $1.40. 

In addition to playing a significant role in strengthening Ontario’s economy, an independent report prepared by Intrinsik Environmental Sciences noted that the continued operation of Darlington Nuclear to 2055 will take the equivalent of two million cars off Ontario’s roads per year by avoiding significant greenhouse gas emissions. This is an important step in Ontario and Canada’s fight against climate change. 


The biodiversity program involves collaboration and planning with various environmental groups and organizations that work hand-in-hand with OPG to meet our climate change targets. These groups are hired by OPG to assist with tree-planting, restoring wetlands and grasslands, and protecting ecosystems 

NHA: Looking forward, one of the key actions described in the Plan that will help OPG achieve its goal of net-zero by 2040 is to continue to invest in your hydroelectric generation. Could you share details of what’s underway and what you have planned? 

Butcher: OPG is working on several initiatives to ensure the longterm operational success of our hydroelectric generation, and to position us to achieve our climate change goals in the years to come. Some of the initiatives include: 

Hydro Refurbishment 

OPG is currently developing a detailed 20-year plan for its Hydro Refurbishment Program. This program involves extensive refurbishment of existing turbine generators in OPG’s hydro stations. 

This anticipated $1 billion (Canadian) turbinegenerator overhaul program will create job opportunities for Canadians over the next 20 years in the following areas: 

  • Construction trades 
  • Engineering 
  • Machining 
  • Manufacturing 
  • Project Management 
  • Quality Control 

Most of OPG’s hydroelectric generating stations are located near small communities and support the local businesses in those areas.  The indigenous communities around OPG generating stations will also benefit from this work program in the way of partnering, apprenticeships, and other work opportunities. 

The overhauls scheduled for 2021 include units at these generating stations: 

  • Aguasabon Falls 
  • Barrett Chute 
  • Beck 1 
  • Crystal Falls 
  • Healey Falls 
  • Manitou Falls 
  • Otto Holden 
  • Silver Falls 

These overhauls will help improve performance and increase capacity in OPG’s hydroelectric stations.  

Hydro Redevelopment 

OPG is completing the following hydro redevelopment projects at existing hydro stations over the next 4 years: 

  • Beck GS – G1 and G2 conversion – add 125 MW of clean hydropower 
  • Calabogie GS – add 11 MW of clean hydropower 
  • Ranney Falls GS – add 10 MW of clean hydro capacity and new internal sluice capacity to respond to water management issues 

These redevelopments will increase capacityimprove efficiency, and extend the operating life of the stations.  

OPG is also looking to deploy a systematic approach for extending the life of existing hydroelectric assets and redevelop at least two additional hydroelectric generating stations by 2025.  

Hydro Forecasting 

In addition to our planned capital improvements, OPG is looking to increase efficiency in our operations by developing a new advanced forecasting and decision support system. This system will improve the information available for water management and will allow OPG to minimize spill, optimizing hydroelectricity generation.  

NHA: Could you explain if there is specific synergy between your nuclear assets and your hydro assets? 

Butcher: Our nuclear and hydro assets play critical roles in Ontario’s low carbon energy mix, producing more than half of the province’s electricityHydroelectricity can be ramped up and down relatively quickly, while nuclear cannot. Hydroelectricity’s flexibility contributes to power system reliability, providing synergy with our inflexible nuclear generation fleet. 

Longer term, OPG is undertaking major projects in nuclear refurbishment at the Darlington Station out through 2026, along with Pickering’s end of commercial operations at the end of 2024 (with units 5 to 8 operating to the end of 2025 if approved by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission). During this time of decreased nuclear availability, our hydro generation will step up to help fill the demand gap, providing flexible, clean, lowcost renewable energy, and ensuring system reliability and safety.   

In addition, OPG has been at the forefront of the Canadian nuclear industry’s collective efforts to consider the option of small modular reactor (SMR) technologies as part of our future energy mix, including taking a key role in the development of the Canadian roadmap study for SMR deployment. 

NHA: One of the guiding principles of the Plan is to engage with Indigenous communities. Talk about the importance of this principle, from the perspective of hydro.  

Butcher: OPG’s commitment to developing respectful and mutually beneficial relationships with Indigenous communities is central to all of our initiatives, including our Climate Change Plan. 

This commitment is grounded in the understanding that all of our facilities are situated on the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples in Ontario.  

In the past 15 years, OPG is proud to have partnered with a number Indigenous communities to build new renewable hydro and solar generation facilities. These partnerships not only provide Ontario with clean and renewable sources of power, but they also provide our partner communities with a long-term revenue source. These partnerships didn’t happen overnight and were the result of many years of reconciliation work with the communities to rebuild our relationships on the basis of trust and mutual respect.  

As we move toward decarbonizing our economy, the deployment of new clean generation, such as additional hydropower, will be necessary to meet future electricity demands in the province.  

We strongly believe that OPG’s Climate Change Plan will create more opportunities for collaboration and partnerships on new projects, and ultimately, to advancing economic reconciliation with Indigenous communities in Ontario.  

NHA: Share a bit about innovation, and OPG’s strong track record in that regard. Specifically, what does OPG see as some of its biggest “wins” in innovation when it comes to hydro? 

Butcher: One of our biggest and most recent innovation wins” in our hydroelectric business is the creation of a “Connected Workforce” through the use of new devices (smart phones, tablets, 360 cameras, 3D scans, Hololens and Realwear pilots) and integration into a common shareable platform. We are shifting away from paperbased systems. Our Chief Information Officer is working on an overall data strategy that will increase data connectivity to legacy systems.   

In addition, we’ve also enhanced our analytics capability to predict and find insights into our operating data.  We are also completing the development of a centralized Monitoring & Diagnostics Centre that will be monitoring the reliability of over 1,000 hydro equipment assets and allow us to shift from inefficient timebased maintenance to a predictive preventative model. 

NHA: With regard to transportation, in the Climate Change Plan, OPG says: “The transportation sector is now the province’s largest source of carbon emissions at more than 30%. Powering cars, trucks, trains, boats and buses with clean electricity, rather than gas or diesel, will make a significant impact to reducing carbon emissions in Ontario. The more of the economy we can get running on electricity, the lower our carbon emissions will be overall.” Specifically, what do you think the electrification of the transportation sector means for hydropower? 

Butcher: We think that the electrification of transportation represents a key opportunity for hydropower moving forward. First of all, electrification is expected to provide the largest source of new electricity demand in the coming decades; demand which can be filled by new build hydro projects and capacity expansions. Further, the greenhouse gas emissions reductions achieved via electrification can only be maximized when the energy we use to power our vehicles is generated from non-emitting sources, such as hydropower. Expanded hydropower can enable the transportation sector to become electrified without the electricity grid incurring more greenhouse gas emissions. 


A provincially-owned electric power producer in the province of Ontario in Canada, Ontario Power Generation owns 66 hydroelectric stations, 2 nuclear stations, 4 natural gas-fired stations, 2 thermal stations, and 1 solar facility. 

In addition, OPG wholly or jointly owns and operates 86 hydroelectric generating stations in the United States through wholly-owned subsidiaries known as Eagle Creek Renewable Energy. These subsidiaries also have minority shareholdings in 14 hydroelectric and two solar facilities in the United States.