A landmark report from the Independent Electricity System Operator defines clear pathways for Ontario to institute a moratorium on new gas generation by 2035 and reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. To reach net zero, the IESO recommends that work should begin immediately on what it calls “no regret” actions. These include the planning required to double provincial nuclear capacity and advance other clean energy projects. But this will only be possible if Ontario has a skilled workforce large enough to deliver on the net zero vision.
The IESO found that one of the critical hurdles the province must overcome on the path to net zero is increasing the 14,000-person electricity sector infrastructure workforce by 600%
“The IESO has taken the abstract idea of creating a net zero emissions economy and set out a tangible model for building the energy system that can make net zero a reality,” said Michelle Johnston, President of the Society of United Professionals. “The IESO’s pathways show that, as the Society has long contended, the net zero energy system is both achievable and a central component of the just transition for workers moving from fossil fuel-dependent industries to the clean energy economy.”
With regards to future workforce demands, the IESO found that one of the critical hurdles the province must overcome on the path to net zero is increasing the 14,000-person electricity sector infrastructure workforce by 600%. However, the report’s “no regret” actions missed an opportunity to recommend that the government get to work immediately on addressing these workforce requirements.
"The Society also calls on the provincial government to move aggressively to establish an electrification workforce strategy" — Michelle Johnston, President
“As the union for Ontario’s energy professionals, the Society has a front row seat to the sector’s workforce challenges,” said Johnston. “After years of wage restraint, attacks on workers’ health and retirement benefits, and limited access to career advancement opportunities, the energy sector needs to pivot to a workforce strategy focused on retaining and attracting the best talent available.”
The Society says the government should help coordinate and advance the effective and strategic growth of the energy sector workforce through a plan to:
- Retain the experienced talent already in the sector to cope with the large number of recent and upcoming retirements
- Inspire and train young people to join the energy sector in a wide range of occupations, including through models such as community benefits agreements and building partnerships with Indigenous communities
- Establish retraining opportunities for workers in adjacent occupations in fossil fuel-dependent industries, and recruit those workers from other provinces and abroad as necessary
- Recognize internationally obtained credentials so qualified newcomers to Canada can contribute within their fields of expertise
This expanded workforce will build the infrastructure needed to more than double Ontario’s energy capacity from 42,000MW to 88,000MW to support electrification of all sectors.
In addition to predicting the quantity of energy Ontario will require, the IESO modeled which technologies could be used to reach the 88,000MW capacity required for a net zero economy. The agency included a range of both proven and unproven technologies in its assumptions. Among the proven technologies are a doubling of Ontario’s nuclear fleet, which is the equivalent of adding three new nuclear facilities with the capacity of the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station or almost 60 small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) of equivalent size to the proposed Darlington SMR.
“After years of wage restraint, attacks on workers’ health and retirement benefits, and limited access to career advancement opportunities, the energy sector needs to pivot to a workforce strategy focused on retaining and attracting the best talent available” — Michelle Johnston, President
Small modular reactor technology will have to play an important role in a net-zero electricity grid, as its ability to load-follow makes it the most suitable carbon-free replacement for natural gas during periods of peak demand. However, the sheer scale of clean electricity required means that only new, full-sized, CANDU reactors can provide the bulk of the carbon-free energy required. This made-in-Canada solution will also have significant downstream economic impacts for its overwhelmingly Canadian supply chain.
While the Society believes that reaching net zero will require all viable technology, the IESO’s model includes the assumption that there will be 15,000MW of hydrogen power available by 2050 even though it is not commercially viable at this time. Similarly, the IESO model assumes that by 2050: storage technology which is not used at all by the system today will be capable of providing the equivalent of 2,000MW of capacity; demand response measures will be eight times as effective as they are today; and Quebec will be able to send Ontario 10 times the energy it does today even though that province is also undertaking ambitious electrification efforts to get to net zero.
“Though looking 25 years into the future is an inherently uncertain task, the Society strongly supports all of the IESO’s recommended ‘no regret’ actions to start moving us down the road to net zero,” said Johnston. “The provincial government must accelerate efforts to acquire new non-emitting sources of energy, plan for new nuclear and other infrastructure like transmission upgrades, and establish open and transparent processes to measure progress and demonstrate results.”
“But we also know that workforces don’t grow themselves and so the Society also calls on the provincial government to move aggressively to establish an electrification workforce strategy that will be able to deliver on the ambitious yet vital vision for a net zero emissions province.”