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IESO confirms more untapped waterpower potential

December 16, 2022

Reports recognize role for pumped storage.

On 15 December 2022, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) released two reports. Both Pathways to Decarbonization (P2D) and the Annual Planning Outlook (APO) underscore the need to act now to capitalize on present waterpower projects opportunities, due to long lead times.

The IESO notes additional needs for success: streamlining permitting and approvals, as well as partnering with Indigenous communities.

The recent Auditor General of Ontario’s Report, the Great Lakes province has 4,000 – 5,000 MW of untapped waterpower potential. The Ontario Waterpower Association (OWA) estimates approx. 200 MW could be developed in the near-term through projects at existing infrastructure.

“Improvement of development timelines through regulatory streamlining and early engagement of Indigenous communities will mean additional waterpower can contribute more quickly to projected electricity requirements and decarbonization goals,” said Paul Norris, OWA President.

The process begins “by securing our existing perpetual assets and pursuing near-term opportunities to upgrade, expand and retrofit facilities while building the policy foundation for new greenfield development,” he continued.

In both reports, the IESO has assumed that all existing waterpower facilities continue to operate for decades to come. A few months ago, the Ontario Minister of Energy requested the IESO develop and implement a program to re-contract existing waterpower facilities until 2043, including provision of incentives for facility upgrades and expansions. Program details are expected to be finalized next year.

The P2D Report also assumes an additional 2,000 MW of long-duration storage comes online in the late 2030s to meet adequacy needs. It recommends the IESO pursue a deeper understanding of the role of long-duration storage such as pumped water, which would allow the province to sooner reduce reliance on natural gas.

“Ontario has significant untapped waterpower potential, including pumped storage, that can make an increased contribution to system reliability as we grow the integration of other energy sources,” added Norris.