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Toronto planning for doubled electric demand by 2050

The City of Toronto is working on a plan to meet a growing demand for electricity that’s expected to double by 2050, as heat and transit are electrified and more people settle in the area.

The Independent Energy Service Operator (IESO), the Crown corporation responsible for operating the electricity market and operations in he province, is consulting the public starting next week to inform that plan.

At a news conference at Portlands Energy Centre Thursday, Mayor Olivia Chow told reporters more power supply is essential for the city to address a number of issues.

“We need more electricity to meet our climate objectives,” she said.

“We need more electricity to operate new transit lines. We need more electricity as we build our way out of a housing crisis.”

A middle-aged woman speaks into a microphone at a podium indoors. A man is standing behind her in a suit. There are pipes behind her also.
Mayor Olivia Chow speaks to reporters at Portlands Energy Centre Thursday. Chow says the city needs to increase its power supply as the population grows and more services, like transit, rely on electricity. (CBC)

Peak electricity demand in Toronto is currently 4,700 megawatts according to the IESO, which is about 20 per cent of the peak demand for the entire province.

The addition of the Ontario line and electrification of GO Transit alone are expected to add 100 megawatts of energy demand to the grid, according to the IESO. That’s about equal to the power demand of a city the size of Kingston.

Toronto is also also striving to add 285,000 homes to the city by 2031.

‘Variety of solutions’ needed

The Portlands Energy Centre is the only major source of energy generation in the city, and is essential to meeting energy demands on the hottest and coldest days of the year, according to the IESO. But its electricity is produced by natural gas, which the IESO plans to phase out by 2050, when demand is expected to be double current levels.

“For the city to keep growing, we need a reliable grid and an affordable power source,” said IESO president and CEO Lesley Gallinger. “We’ll need a variety of solutions to meet those future requirements.”

That could include upgrading existing transmission lines, building new ones and reducing power demand through more energy efficiency programs, Gallinger said. It may also include building more infrastructure that would allow the city to generate more of its own electricity.

A woman with short dark hair points at the screen of an electric vehicle charging station while her red car is charging.
Electrification of vehicles, transit, and heating are expected to drive up electricity demands in Toronto over the coming decades. (Doug Ives/The Canadian Press)

Energy minister Todd Smith says small scale generation projects strategically located across the city and energy storage could be part of the new IESO plan. The two existing transmission lines, which carry power into the city, are expected to be overburdened within the next decade, he said.

Public asked to weigh in

Public consultation begins next Tuesday with an IESO-led webinar. Consultations through 2024 will provide information on infrastructure options available to sustainably increase the city’s power supply. Following consultations, IESO will present a draft plan early next year.

Portrait of Todd Smith
Ontario’s energy minister Todd Smith, pictured here in 2023, says Toronto needs to plan energy infrastructure expansion well ahead of 2050. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

“Building new electricity infrastructure, especially in a busy and growing city like Toronto, can take more than a decade to develop and deploy, so it’s critical we start planning early so we can put shovels in the ground sooner,” Smith said in a release Thursday.

A plan for Toronto’s “energy future” is part of Powering Ontario’s Growth, a provincial plan to increase electricity supply and reduce emissions.

In a report earlier this year, a government-commissioned panel recommended that Ontario commit to a clean energy economy by 2050.

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