Ontario employs cogeneration in bid to lower grid demand

The Canadian province of Ontario was severely affected by the 2003 power blackout. Now it is encouraging the installation of new cogeneration capacity to cut energy costs for its buildings and, more importantly, to reduce its peak electricity grid demand ” with some success. Anita Susi reports.

The Canadian province of Ontario, home to more than 12 million people, set itself some of the most ambitious energy conservation goals in North America a few years ago. The province was shocked into action in the wake of a massive 2003 power blackout that began in the United States and affected 50 million people in eight US states and in Ontario. This was the largest blackout in North American history, and it created serious economic losses and other hardships in the affected areas, as power was restored over a period of several days. Ontario’s provincial government was shut down for more than a week.

That autumn, a new provincial government was elected and was handed a mandate to improve the reliability of Ontario’s power supply, reduce electricity use, decrease importation of power from the United States, and develop new energy sources. Two years later, during the hot summer of 2005, Ontario faced additional energy challenges as electricity demand peaked at 26,160 MW ” an all-time record for the province. Despite repeated appeals to the public to reduce electricity use, utilities were forced several times to reduce voltage in order to keep the system in operation.

Conservation challenge

In response to these events and other factors, Peter Love, who in 2005 was appointed Chief Energy Conservation Officer in the Conservation Bureau, a division of the Ontario Power Authority, issued a challenge to the people of Ontario to reduce their energy consumption by 10%.

The government set a target of reducing peak energy use in the province by 6300 MW by 2025. This amount is almost equal to the capacity of Ontario’s current coal-fired generation plants, which are scheduled to be shut down by the end of 2014. Interim energy-saving goals were set by the government to reduce consumption by 1350 MW by 2007 and by an additional 1350 MW by 2010. On-site power generation was one of an assortment of measures chosen by the provincial government to help achieve those goals.

While the numbers are still being confirmed, Ontarioà‚ is confident it has succeeded in meeting the 2007 reduction target, according to George Nutter, senior advisor in the Communications Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Energy. If the province meets the next target in 2010, it will have reduced anticipated growth in electrical demand by 10%.

According to a recent (March 2008) Ministry of Energy report1, Ontario has more than 31,000 MW of electric generating capacity, but many existing power plants are nearing the end of their operating lifespans. In addition, the population continues to grow, requiring more electric power. The government recognizes that it is imperative to find and develop new sources of electrical power as well as create a culture of conservation among its citizens.

Government buildings targeted

A linchpin of Ontario’s ambitious energy conservation programme was reducing electric demand in the government’s own buildings, not only to lower operating costs, but also to demonstrate leadership by example for the province-wide energy-saving effort.

The cogeneration unit at the Ontario Police College in Aylmer has been up and running for a year. Shown is the view from the building’s rear exterior photo: ontario realty corporation
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The Ontario Realty Corporation (ORC), established in 1993, manages the provincial government’s real estate portfolio of more than 6000 buildings. These include office space, courthouses, heritage buildings, correctional facilities, and law enforcement agencies. Its Property Management Division manages all owned and leased facilities and land, as well as capital construction, repairs and tenant improvements. This includes upgrades to save energy.

Even before the Conservation Bureau issued its province-wide challenge to reduce power demand, the provincial government in 2004 assigned ORC the task of helping it and its various ministries to reduce energy consumption in government buildings by 10% from the base year of 2002″2003, according to Jim Butticci, a spokesman for ORC.

Aerial view of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Headquarters at One Stone Road in Guelph photo: ontario realty corporation
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The ORC not only met that target, but exceeded it. Since the 2004″2005 fiscal year, the ORC has completed or is committed to completing 356 energy conservation projects expected to save 83 million kWh, enough to power 6916 average Canadian homes for one year, according to Butticci. The resulting energy savings totalled 10.6% for buildings directly managed by ORC, while additional reductions in buildings run by other government ministries brought the total to 12%.

Cogeneration was one of several options that ORC implemented to achieve its energy savings. But not every building was found suitable for on-site power generation. Of its 6000-building portfolio, ORC has only a few that would be optimal for CHP, being of a certain size and with a continuous or long duration load. Other structures were removed from the list because of lower electrical demand, restricted hours of operation, lack of a central utility plant, age, or other considerations.

One of ORC’s objectives in undertaking these CHP projects was to minimize greenhouse gases as a by-product of their operation. To accomplish this, ORC specified selective catalytic reduction equipment for all of its CHP plants. The equipment supplied will allow emissions of less than 0.075à‚ grams per brake horsepower per hour (g/bhp/hr) of nitrous oxide, and less than 0.15 g/bhp/hr of carbon monoxide in accordance with leading industry emission targets.

‘We wanted to find where large-scale savings were to be had by retrofitting,’ Butticci said. ‘The buildings we chose were new or nearly new.’

Four locations were ultimately selected by ORC for cogeneration:

  • The Ontario Police College, 10716 Hacienda Road, Aylmer, ON
  • The Ontario Government Building,à‚ One Stone Road, Guelph, ON
  • The Laboratory Services Building, 95 Stone Road, Guelph, ON
  • The Ontario Provincial Police General Headquarters, Lincoln M. Alexander Building, 777 Memorial Avenue, Orillia, ON.

One is on-line; the others are in the final stages of commissioning and are expected to be on-line shortly. Theà‚ total cost for the four projects is expected to be CAN $11à‚ million, and the anticipated return on investment (ROI) is expected to take 8 to 10 years.

The amount of power to be generated is affected by the hours of operation, load profile of the building, and operations strategy. Two of the sites, the Ontario Government Building and the Provincial Police General Headquarters, will be in use from early morning to early evening weekdays, depending on the building load profile.

This 1060 kW natural gas-fired cogeneration unit is undergoing final testing at the One Stone Road Complex in Guelph, ON photo: ontario realty corporation
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The Ontario Police College in Aylmer and the Laboratory Building in Guelph will have longer operating profiles because their loads are more evenly distributed across the day and week. The four projects were intended for electrical load displacement.

Cogeneration saves energy

The only project already in operation is the Ontario Police College. Its CAN $3.55 million, 850 kW natural gas-fired reciprocating engine cogeneration plant was commissioned in 2007.

The 375 kW cogeneration plant in the Laboratory Services building was nearly complete as this article went to press. For fiscal purposes, it is considered a single project with the neighbouring Ontario Government Building at One Stone Road. The latter is a 556,000 ft2 (51,700 m2) office building with two five-storey towers and underground parking, connected by an atrium. Electricity for the building will be produced with a 1060 kW natural gas-fired GE Jenbacher reciprocating engine system. Exhaust heat from the generator preheats domestic hot water and supplies space heating in winter. Summer space cooling will be supplied with a 172-ton (156 metric tonnes) absorption chiller from York-Johnson controls. A catalytic device will remove greenhouse gases from the generator exhaust. The project is expected to reduce energy costs by CAN $180,000 a year.

‘Here in Ontario and elsewhere, the electric grid is a bit overtaxed, reaching record electrical demand,’ says Doug Stark, P.Eng., of the engineering firm H. H. Angus & Associates, which performed engineering work for the cogeneration project at One Stone Road. ‘This is a small effort to relieve load on the grid. During record levels of consumption, Ontario imports power from other jurisdictions.’ The Toronto-based engineering company also retrofitted similar cogeneration systems for the three other ORC projects.

One Stone Road’s cogeneration plant is in the final stages of testing. Constructed in 1996, the building has won several awards from the Toronto chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of Canada. Cogeneration will not only reduce energy costs, but also supply critical back-up power to keep the Ontario Provincial Police General Headquarters in Orillia operating around-the-clock during emergencies.

‘They need to be in operation 24/7, and they need a reliable source of continuous power in the event of emergency or blackout,’ said Butticci.

A 172-ton York/Johnson Controls absorption chiller uses exhaust heat from cogeneration to supply space cooling at One Stone Road in Guelph photo: ontario realty corporation
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The CAN $3.9 million natural gas-fired reciprocating engine system at the police headquarters is undergoing commissioning and is expected to go on-line later this year. It will supply 1060à‚ kW of power for the CAN $85 million, 600,000 ft2 (55,742à‚ m2) headquarters. Built in 1995, it houses police bureaus and divisions, as well as the Provincial Police Academy and Ontario Provincial Police Museum, while serving as headquarters for the Central Region. The police headquarters earned BOMA Go Green Plus environmental certification, as did One Stone Road. The Go Green initiative is intended to make buildings healthier for occupants, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions along with energy and water consumption, cutting operating costs and improving waste management.

Challenges to cogeneration

Unlike private property holders, the Ontario Realty Corporation is required to follow government procurement processes, which require national and international advertising for bids in order to ensure the best dollar value and quality project, according to Butticci. This can increase the time required to bring a cogeneration project from inception to commissioning.

Once approved and funded, ORC’s Project Manager Bruce Jackson, Regional Director of Operations Bruce Lawrence, and Asset Manager Gary Sirove combined to develop the in-house ORC expertise to implement small-scale embedded cogen plants in Government of Ontario facilities. To help finance on-site power, they made use of some federal funding as well as grants and rebates from sources such as Union Gas, a key distributor of natural gas in Ontario.

A night view of the Ontario Provincial Police General Headquarters in Orillia photo: ontario realty corporation
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On a higher policy level, the Ontario government considered a number of factors before deciding to add distributed generation to its overall mix of energy-saving measures. These considerations focused on whether fuel use in smaller conventional gas-burning facilities would be as efficient as that in larger cogen plants, whether distributed generation could worsen transmission load factors, and whether natural sources of distributed generation (e.g. landfill gas, wind, tidal, geothermal) would be located close enough to their intended points of use.2

In addition, an April 2006 report by the Pembina Institute raised concerns about market barriers to its plan to implement Standard-Offer contracts for another 2000 MW of combined heat and power projects in the province by 2010.3

The barriers cited by the Pembina Institute included uncertainty by investors, the high amounts of capital required for CHP projects, and ‘lowest-price’ criteria, in which the competitive bidding process, primarily driven by price, discriminates against small and medium projects compared to large ones. Another study cited legal, consultancy and regulatory costs associated with developing a new distributed generation project.

The government has worked with the Industry Task Force on Distributed Generation (DG Task Force) and the Association of Power Producers of Ontario (APPRO) as well as other groups to overcome some of these obstacles. Ultimately, the OPA was directed by the Minister of Energy to procure contracts for up to 1000 MW of high-efficiency combined heat and power projects across Ontario, including industrial co-generation projects and district energy projects. These projects do not include the four ORC cogeneration systems.

Other CHP projects in Ontario

In October 2006, OPA awarded seven CHP contracts totalling 414 MW in capacity.

One CHP project under OPA’s jurisdiction is Soave Hydroponics Company, a commercial tomato greenhouse operator in Kingsville, with a 12 MW Jenbacher CO2 fertilization cogeneration system, designed by GE Energy, to boost crop production in addition to generating electrical power. Also called the Great Northern Tri-Gen Facility, it is expected to go on-line in 2008.

On a larger scale, the CAN $135 million Algoma Energy Cogeneration facility now under construction will supply 63 MW of power in Sault Ste. Marie. It will use blast furnace and coke oven gas from Algoma Steel Inc. (ASI) to generate electricity and process steam for steel manufacturing operations. It is set to begin operating in 2009.

Atrium inside the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Headquarters at One Stone Road in Guelph photo: ontario realty corporation
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Other OPA CHP projects are the Countryside London Cogeneration Facility (12 MW) in London, Durham College District Energy Project in Oshawa (2.3 MW), East Windsor Co-Generation Centre (84 MW) in the Engine Plant of the Ford Motor Company in Windsor, Thorold Cogeneration Project (236.4 MW) in a paper mill in Thorold, and the Warden Energy Centre (5 MW) in Markham. All are expected to be on-line between 2008 and 2010.

Union Gas Ltd, a major natural gas distributor for the province, is working on its own 260 kW cogeneration effort. A new 20,000 ft2 (1860 m2) Union Gas administration/service building in Burlington is scheduled to begin operation this spring and will incorporate a wide variety of features that are expected to lead to LEED Gold certification. It should reduce energy consumption by more than 25% compared to conventional buildings.

Four 65 kW integrated combined heat and power (ICHP) Capstone microturbines will generate all of the building’s electricity.à‚ Heat from the generating process will be captured and used for space heating through a radiant floor system. When the microturbines shut down for the night, the heat they made will be stored in an underground thermal store for use the following morning.

More CHP potential

The private Pembina Institute, however, contends that far more could be done with cogeneration in Ontario. The Institute is an independent, not-for-profit environmental policy research and education organization. It cites a 2000 study for the Ontario government that estimated the technical potential for CHP to be more than 16,500 MW by 2020, although an economic potential of 3900 MW has also been suggested. The environmental organization’s own 2006 study estimates 6700à‚ MW of cogeneration would be both technically feasible and economically practical by 2020.4

Mindful of the potential benefits of CHP in lowering demand on the power grid, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing building operating costs, the Ontario Realty Corporation is continuing to evaluate its building portfolio to see whether there are others that would qualify for retrofitting.

Another future cogeneration site is the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre near London. Design is under way for two 335 kW CHP units which will also supplement the emergency power requirements of the facility. Again, selected catalytic reduction is an essential part of the design to reduce GHG emissions from the CHP plant.

In addition to cogeneration, ORC has implemented a variety of measures to lower energy demand in Ontario’s government buildings. The bulk of the savings to date is due to aggressive implementation of building retrofits and equipment upgrades, including lighting retrofits, building automation, chiller/HVAC system replacements or improvements, and performance monitoring.

ORC conducted 109 energy audits in 2006″07, the most recent full fiscal year. It has also completed an extensive sub-metering programme to measure energy consumption and identify potential savings.

ORC was also involved with Enwave, a project that makes use of icy-cold water from the bottom of Lake Ontario to supply cooling for buildings in downtown Toronto. It provides air conditioning for 100 office buildings totaling 32 million ft2 (3 million m2) of building space and is one of the largest district energy systems in North America.

Anita Susi is senior writer for Mhley/Davis & Associates, Rockville, Maryland, US.
e-mail: mhleydavis@aol.com


  1. ‘Ontario’s Electricity Supply’, Ontario Ministry of Energy, Toronto, ON, March 2008, https://energy.gov.on.ca/index.cfm?fuseaction=electricity.nuclear_supply
  2. ‘Electricity Transmission and Distribution in Ontario ” A Look Ahead’, Ontario Ministry of Energy, Toronto, ON, December 21, 2004, https://energy.gov.on.ca/english/pdf/electricity/review/GPS-2005-S013.pdf
  3. ‘A Quick-Start Energy-Efficiency Strategy for Ontario’, The Pembina Institute, Drayton Valley, AB, April 2006, pubs.pembina.org/reports/quickstart_Final_Apr0606.pdf
  4. ibid

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