As the Ontario Liberals vow to legislate limits on industrial pollution and further green energy policy throughout the province, one candidate in a key Windsor-area riding has spent the past 25 years working for an American energy company that largely relies on coal-fired power plants .
Running in the hotly-contested riding of Essex for the Ontario Liberal Party, Manpreet Brar’s official biography lists her as an “information technology professional” for a Michigan-based “Fortune 500 company for the last 24 years,” as well as an employee of an energy company boasting over “2.2 million customers.”
Online professional directors list Brar as an employee of DTE Energy, a 136-year-old power generation corporation that operates four coal-fired power plants along the Canada-US border.
Once the heart of the American car industry and part of the industrial manufacturing belt that dominated the northeastern United States, pollution and industrial contamination in the Detroit-area remains a serious environmental issue.
According to DTE’s own data, just under 58 per cent of the company’s electricity is generated using coal — by followed nuclear (28 per cent,) natural gas (8.95 per cent,) and less than one per cent for oil and hydroelectric generation.
DTE’s renewable generation capacity sits at just under 10 per cent — mostly consisting of wind generation but also one per cent or less using biomass, solar or wood.
Regional averages across all power plants in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin put coal generation at 36 per cent, followed by nuclear at 28 per cent and 26 per cent for natural gas.
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DTE’s sulfur dioxide emissions last year amounted to about three lbs. (1.3 kilograms) per megawatt hour, well above the regional average of 1.16 lbs. per megawatt hour.
DTE also generated around 1,000 lbs. more carbon dioxide per megawatt hour than the regional average, and 1.31 lbs. of nitrogen dioxide per megawatt hour last year — above the 0.82 lb. generated by other plants.
A byproduct of burning sulfur-rich fossil fuels, long-term exposure to even small amounts of environmental sulfur dioxide can be hazardous to human health.
Two years ago, DTE agreed to begin reducing emissions at their southeast Michigan coal-fired power plants as part of a settlement with the EPA that stemmed from a 2010 lawsuit filed by the US government for violations of the federal Clean Air Act.
As part of that settlement, DTE will install pollution controls on its coal-fired Belle River, River Rouge, St. Clair and Trenton Channel power plants, invest $5.5 million to replace older diesel school and municipal transit buses with newer, cleaner models, and $1.8 million in civil litigation penalties.
Upon completion, these programs should reduce annual sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by around 125,000 metric tons.
Earlier this year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the Detroit area had failed to meet air quality standards imposed to limit sulfur dioxide emissions.
This determination, the EPA said in a news release, puts the US governmental agency on the road towards developing a federal plan to reduce emissions after a successful 2016 lawsuit by US Steel overturned mandates from state regulators to draft plans to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.
Ontario’s last coal-fired power plant, Thunder Bay Generating Station, went off-line in early 2014 — the fulfillment of policy enacted in 2002 by then-Premier Ernie Eves to make the province Canada’s first to do away with coal generation.
Former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne later introduced legislation banning coal from ever again being used for power generation in the province.
The Ontario Liberals’ 2022 platform takes credit for Ontario’s coal plant shutdown, claiming a 24 per cent reduction in carbon emissions and consequent reductions in cases of asthma and daily smog alerts.
The party pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and reach net-zero by 2050 — in addition to halving existing methane pollution levels and investing $9 billion in green energy jobs.
“We’ll require high-emitting industries, which create up to 30 per cent of Ontario’s total carbon pollution, to cut their further emissions by strengthening the Emissions Performance Standards in line with our 2030 target,” read the Liberal platform’s chapter on eliminating carbon emissions.