Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Summertime, and the breathin' ain't easy...

Summer hasn't officially started yet, and we've already suffered through one record-breaking heat wave. The bad news is that the most recent soaring temperatures are likely only a sample of things to come.

Winter used to be the time of peak energy demand, but thanks to our ever-increasing need for air conditioning, we now reach our peak during the summer months. Peak demand means that the province must rely on coal and oil fired generation to supplement the base load of electricity supplied by Ontario's hydroelectric and nuclear power stations. It's these fossil fuel plants that contribute dramatically to air pollution and smog.

Last week, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) released new data that shows that air pollution is a contributing factor in an estimated 9,500 premature deaths in Ontario every year.

"The health impacts from smog range anywhere from itchy eyes and sore throats to respiratory and cardiac illnesses and even premature death," said Dr. Ken Arnold, President of the OMA. The OMA's Illness Costs of Air Pollution (ICAP) model found that 1,000 deaths occurred immediately after increased pollution, while the remaining deaths were attributed to longer term exposure to air pollution.

While smog conditions used to be reserved for large cities and industrial centers, the OMA also found that an increasing number of deaths were found across the province in more rural areas. Risk factors include asthma and other respiratory conditions, heart disease and related conditions. The most vulnerable are the very young and the aged.

To protect yourself and your loved ones, the OMA advises you to reduce strenuous outdoor activities, stay cool and hydrated and know your limits on smoggy days.

"The air we breathe is one of our most important resources and we all have a role to play in reducing the amount of smog that we are exposed to," said Dr. Arnold. Reducing electricity consumption during the summer months helps to directly reduce the incidents of smog, and grid instability, which can lead to brown outs and black outs.

A whopping 40 percent of the electricity generated in Ontario is used to run air conditioners on peak summer days, so targeting their use is a good place to start. Last year, the Peak Buster Program was launched to encourage Ontario's energy consumers to reduce their load. Consumers who managed to reduce their electricity consumption by 10 percent compared with 2006 consumption were given an additional 10 percent rebate on their energy bills in the fall.

According to the Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA), the result was that Ontario's peak demand fell by 4.7 percent during the summer of 2007, when compared with 2006 figures. This translated into a 2007 peak demand of 25,737 megawatts (MW) on June 26th, as compared to an August 1 peak of 27,005 MW in 2006.

Based on the success of last year's program, the OCAA is once again encouraging electricity consumers to pledge to be Peak Busters by ensuring that air conditioners are equipped with a peaksaver device. Essentially, peaksavers temporarily turn control of air conditioners over to local utilities when demand starts to peak. The device doesn't run on weekends and holidays and subscribers can also specify certain days when they don't want to have their air conditioner's demand reduced. To encourage participations, subscribers are automatically entered in a Chillin' Without Coal contest that is awarding more than $ 10,000 in prizes.

While this all may seem more promotion that benefit, according to the Peak Saver website, "If everyone with a central air conditioner in Ontario installed a free peaksaver device that allows their utility to temporarily reduce their air conditioner's energy demands, but not home comfort in peak periods, we could eliminate the need for four of Nanticoke's eight dirty coal boilers."

In other words, being a Peak Buster helps everyone in the province breathe a little easier.


You don't have to have a central A/C to join in the fun. Visit www.PeakBusters.ca to find out more or to sign up for the program.

The Ministry of the Environment’s Air Quality Ontario website provides daily updates on air quality, weather forecasts and hosts a smog alert network. To sign up, visit www.airqualityontario.com.

For more on the Ontario Medical Association’s report about premature deaths and air pollution, visit www.oma.org


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