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Comments on proposed Frame for Clean Electricity Regulations

August 16, 2022

Environment and Climate Change Canada

Hull Quebec

Via E-mail:


Re: Proposed Frame for Clean Electricity Regulations


Dear Environment and Climate Change Canada,


I am writing to comment on the proposed Frame for Clean Electricity Regulations, published on July 26, 2022.  The purpose of the regulations to be developed on the basis of the frame are to bring the grid’s greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2035, specifically through the phase-out of coal-fired generation and the “phase-down” of natural gas and diesel-fired generation.

I was part of a team that conducted a sustainability assessment of electricity supply options available to Ontario for the purposes of the development of the province's Integrated Power System Plan (IPSP) in 2007). The assessment, which was submitted to the Ontario Energy Board as evidence for the purposes of its hearing on the proposed plan, evaluated a range of options including new build and refurbished nuclear, coal and natural gas-fired options, large and small hydro, and a range of renewable energy technologies, as well as conservation and demand management. A paper, based on the assessment was subsequently published in Energy Policy (attached). The full assessment is available here.

The evaluation framework employed in that work informs the following comments regarding the federal government's approach to defining "clean" and "non-emitting" electricity.

The technologies identified in the proposal as potentially ‘clean’ and to be encouraged included energy efficiency, demand side management, dynamic pricing, solar, wind, small hydropower, distributed energy systems, grid interties, energy storage and geothermal. These are all relatively low-impact options, with low risks of technological lock-in. They are generally seen to fit well within an energy sustainability framework as a result.

New large hydro projects, in contrast, would face significant challenges in a sustainability context. The Site C and Muskrat Falls projects in BC and Labrador respectively, have raised major questions of the economic viability of such projects.[1] Significant issues around ecological, social and cultural integrity, particularly in terms of their impacts on Indigenous communities, would be certain to emerge as well.  The classification of new large hydro projects as “clean” should be considered on a case by case basis for these reasons.

Other technologies that are proposed to be classified as ‘clean’ or ‘non-emitting’ also present major sustainability challenges. These include CCUS (discussed below), and nuclear energy in general and small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) in particular, as well hydrogen-based technologies (discussed below).

Nuclear energy and SMRs

An SMR roadmap was published in November 2018.[2] Proposals have been made for SMR installations at the Darlington Nuclear Power Plant in Ontario and Point Lepreau facility in New Brunswick.

Implicit in the focus on SMRs is a recognition that large new build nuclear facilities are not economically viable even in the context of strong carbon pricing regimes. This is due to their high initial capital costs and extremely long planning and construction timeframes.[3] From a sustainability perspective nuclear energy offers the potential for large energy outputs with relatively low greenhouse gas emissions. In a Canadian context, nuclear also offers a low geopolitical risk fuel supply. Northern Saskatchewan is a major uranium producer and fuel processing and manufacturing takes place in Ontario. [4]

Against these potential advantages nuclear offers a series of extremely serious negative trade-offs from a sustainability perspective. These include very high non-GHG environmental and health impacts, notably the production of extremely hazardous and long-lived waste streams, particularly uranium mining tailings and waste, and waste reactor fuel bundles. These materials will require care for environmental and security reasons on timescales of hundreds of thousands of years, effectively transferring significant risks and costs onto future generations. Nuclear generation facilities are associated with high lock-in effects, and low operational flexibility. They also suffer from unique and uniquely severe risks of catastrophic accidents, as demonstrated by the 1977 Three Mile Island, 1986 Chernobyl and 2011 Fukushima disasters.  Civilian nuclear technologies and materials can be transferred to military purposes by determined governments, and nuclear facilities themselves can be significant terrorist, or as seen recently in the Ukraine war, military targets.  Governments have had to assume ultimate liability for nuclear waste management, decommissioning and accident risks as both a market and regulatory requirement.[5] These considerations have generally made nuclear an unacceptable option from an energy sustainability perspective.[6]

The SMR concept seeks to avoid some of these problems by offering scalability, and reduced costs and risks of path dependence with shorter planning and construction timelines, although the challenges related to fuel cycles, and accident and security risks would largely remain the same.  The SMR technologies being proposed for Canada are immature, with no existing functional examples or even prototypes.[7] The business models for SMRs are undefined, as is their ability to attract private investment. Their construction and operation would still require governmental assumption of ultimate liability for waste management, decommissioning and accident risks for both market and regulatory reasons.[8] SMR design issues remain unresolved,[9] and their outputs /wastes remain uncertain. Serious questions about weapons proliferation, and even potential violations of the Nuclear Weapons Non-proliferation Treaty, have been raised in relation to the potential for Plutonium production at the SMR proposed for the Point Lepreau site.[10] Nuclear-based technologies cannot be considered “clean” or “non-emitting” for these reasons.

Fossil Fuel Fired Generating Technologies and Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) based technologies.  

Fossil-fuel fired generating technologies (e.g. coal, fossil gas and diesel) cannot be classified as "clean" or "non-emitting" generating technologies given their direct and life-cycle emissions of a wide range of pollutants including GHGs, and extractive-phase landscape disruptions.

Underground injection of CO2 has long been used as a method for enhanced oil recovery in conventional oil fields. However, the technology’s use for the purpose of capturing and provide long-term storage of CO2 suffers from a number of significant drawbacks.[11] These include the high capital and higher operating costs associated with adding carbon capture and storage to industrial facilities,[12] significant losses of efficiency (15-30% depending on technologies) as a result of the need to use additional energy to capture and compress CO2,[13] and concerns over the potential for leakage from underground storage over the long term.[14] The technology is also limited to areas with appropriate geological structures. It cannot be employed in locations defined by solid rock formations, like the Canadian shield, or places subject to high levels of fracturing. In theory CO2 could be transported by pipeline from locations without appropriate geology to storage sites, although that would add further significant capital and operating costs.

A major concern over CCUS is its potential lock-in effects. The January 2022 letter from over 400 Canadian scientists, academics and energy modelers opposing the introduction of a CCUS tax credit stated: [15]

“Put simply, rather than replacing fossil fuels, carbon capture prolongs our dependence on them at a time when preventing catastrophic climate change requires winding down fossil fuel use. Relying on CCUS preserves status quo fossil fuel development, which must be curtailed to meet global climate commitments.”[16]

CCUS-based fossil-fueled electricity generation technologies should not be considered “clean” for these reasons.


Hydrogen is seen as a potential replacement in for fossil natural gas in space heating, electricity generation, and as a transportation fuel, principally for fuel cell vehicles.  Significant industrial applications are also envisioned, particularly in the decarbonization of certain hard to decarbonize sectors like steel, cement and fertilizer production where CO2 generation is an inherent by-product of current production technologies.

Hydrogen can be produced in a number of different ways, The most common has been ‘grey’ hydrogen produced by splitting natural gas (principally methane) into carbon dioxide and hydrogen. ‘Blue’ hydrogen involves the same process as grey but the resulting CO2 is subject to CCUS.  ‘Green’ hydrogen uses electricity provided from renewable sources to split water molecules into H2 and O2.

Although hydrogen-based options have drawn a great deal of attention, they are subject to some significant limitations.  Hydrogen is not expected to be cost-effective decarbonization option except, potentially, in some transportation (e.g. heavy road freight, ships, air) and industrial applications, like steel production. Hydrogen storage, transportation and distribution infrastructure is virtually non-existent in Canada. The existing natural gas distribution infrastructure cannot be easily converted to carry hydrogen, except in low proportions to natural gas, and most existing end-use technologies for natural gas (e.g. engines, furnaces, stoves etc) cannot be readily converted to hydrogen. Rather they would largely need to be replaced. A number of major studies have concluded that direct electrification of end uses (vehicles, heating, etc) is much more efficient, wherever possible, than using electricity to produce hydrogen for use as a fuel.[17] The federal Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development concluded in his April 2022 report to Parliament that Natural Resources Canada’s strategy greatly overestimated hydrogen’s potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because unrealistic assumptions were used.[18]

All of this suggests that hydrogen may be potentially useful in a net-zero transition but is unlikely to be a panacea. Rather it is more likely to find applications in specific applications such as heavy freight, certain hard to decarbonize industries, like steel.  From a sustainability perspective, only “green” hydrogen should be considered “clean” as it avoids key GHG emission, CCUS and nuclear-related trade-offs related grey, blue and red hydrogen.


I would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have regarding my views on the proposed Frame for Clean Electricity Regulations.


Yours sincerely,

Mark S. Winfield, Ph.D.


Senator, York University Senate

MES Program Coordinator

MES/JD Program Coordinator

Co-Chair, Sustainable Energy Initiative
Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change
York University
Toronto, Ontario

Treaty Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and the Dish with One Spoon Wampum


[1] A.Kurjata and M. Bains, “ Site C dam budget nearly doubles to $16B, but B.C. NDP forging on with megaproject,” CBC News, February 25, 2021,; S.Smellie, “Ottawa hands N.L. $5.2 billion for troubled Muskrat Falls hydro project, CTV Atlantic, July 29, 2021,

[2] NRCan, SMR Roadmap

[3] M.Schneider, A.Froggatt, S.Thomas, World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020 – Executive Summary

[4] Winfield, M., et al., Nuclear Power in Canada: An Examination of Impacts, Risks and Sustainability (Drayton Valley: Pembina Institute, December 2006)

[5] Winfield,  Nuclear Power in Canada.

[6] See, for example, B.K. Sovacool, Contesting the Future of Nuclear Power

A Critical Global Assessment of Atomic Energy (New Jersey: World Scientific, 2011); Winfield, M., Gibson, R., Markvart, T., Gaudreau, K. and Taylor, J., “Implications of Sustainability Assessment for Electricity System Design: The case of the Ontario Power Authority’s Integrated Power System Plan,” Energy Policy, 38 (2010) 4115-4126.

[7] M.Winfield “Canada’s newest nuclear industry dream is a potential nightmare” Policy Options, November 18, 2020,

[8] Winfield, M., and Kaiser K, “What is clean electricity?,” Policy Options, January 27, 2022

[9] A.Cho, “Smaller, cheaper reactor aims to revive nuclear industry, but design problems raise safety concerns, Science, August 18, 2021

[10] “Nuclear fuel ‘recycling could drive weapons proliferation,” The Energy Mix March 22, 2021.

[11] P.Brown, “Carbon capture and storage won’t work, critics say,” Climate News Network, January 14, 2021 ;, S. Garcia Freites and C. Jones, A Review of the Role of Fossil Fuel- Based Carbon Capture and Storage in the Energy System (Edinburgh: Tyndall Manchester Climate Change Research Friends of the Earth Scotland, 2020)

[12] H.Herzog and K.Smekens, “Cost and Economic Potential Table 8.3a,” in Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage (IPCC/Cambridge UP, 2018)

[13] L. A. Argaez, “Industrial energy efficiency and carbon capture (CCS): the thermodynamic cost of going ‘green’” Process Ecology, 2009,

[14] Z.Zhou, “Carbon capture and storage: A lot of eggs in a potentially leaky basket,” Blog- International Council on Clean Transportation, January 17, 2020,

[15]  Letter from scientists, academics, and energy system modellers: Prevent proposed

CCUS investment tax credit from becoming a fossil fuel subsidy, January 19, 2022,

[16] Letter from scientists, academics, and energy system modellers.

[17] Ueckerdt, F., Bauer, C., Dirnaichner, A. et al. Potential and risks of hydrogen-based e-fuels in climate change mitigation. Nat. Clim. Chang. 11, 384–393 (2021).

[18] Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development, 2022 Reports to Parliament:  Report 3—Hydrogen’s Potential to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Ottawa: Office of the Auditor General of Canada, 2022).