Hydro Review: Viewpoints from the Board Room with Ken Hartwick, Ontario Power Generation

Ontario Power Generation is a large, diverse clean power producer based in Canada but with hydro generating assets in the U.S. as well. In this executive interview, President and Chief Executive Officer Ken Hartwick discusses the company’s history, commitment to tackling climate change through clean energy, and future plans.

Ken Hartwick has been president and chief executive officer of Ontario Power Generation in Canada since April 2019. OPG is owned by the provincial government and provides half the power for the province, as well as owning hydro assets in the U.S.

Hartwick joined the company in 2016 as Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President – Finance and was promoted to his current position in 2019. Before joining OPG, Hartwick worked for Wellspring Financial Corporation, Atlantic Power Corporation, Just Energy Corporation, Hydro One, Cap Gemini and Ernst & Young.

In this exclusive interview, Hartwick discusses the importance of hydroelectric power to not just the province of Ontario but the entire North American continent, as well as the company’s Climate Change Plan and how its hydropower assets fit into its overall generation mix and plans for a clean power portfolio.

Q: Please give our readers an overview of Ontario Power Generation.

We are Ontario’s largest clean power generator, 100% owned by the provincial government, and backed by C$59.8 billion of assets. We provide almost half the power for Canada’s largest province through one of the most diverse generating portfolios in North America.

In Ontario, we own and operate 66 hydroelectric, two nuclear and two thermal generating stations, as well as one solar facility. The company also operates four natural gas-fired generating stations and we own and operate 86 hydroelectric stations in the U.S. under our Eagle Creek Renewable Energy banner.

OPG has been a leader in climate change action with an ongoing set of initiatives to reduce our carbon emissions. This change began in 2014 when we closed the last of our coal stations – one of the world’s single-largest climate change actions to date. Since then, we have been focused on enhancing and expanding our clean power portfolio.

Q: How does hydroelectric power fit into OPG’s overall generation portfolio?

Hydro has been a staple of our company and province for more than a century, so much so that in Ontario, the word “hydro” is synonymous with electricity. OPG’s predecessor company was founded on hydro power and helped pioneer public power for the province, and we’re proud to continue this legacy through historic stations like our Sir Adam Beck facilities in Niagara Falls.

Sir Adam Beck facility

Today, hydropower accounts for more than one-third of OPG’s electricity production. We have 66 hydro assets in Ontario of varying age and capacity and 241 dams on 24 river systems. In all, these stations are capable of close to 7,500 megawatts of clean generating capacity.

In addition to this, I previously mentioned our 86 hydro stations across the U.S. These operations will play a major role in helping to facilitate decarbonization efforts in the U.S. and the North American continent.

Clean hydropower is an important part of OPG’s energy mix for Ontario, and it will continue to play a major role in our efforts to help the province and beyond reach its climate change targets.

Q: Your company recently released its first ever Climate Change Plan. Could you explain why this is a priority for OPG and what it means for your hydro operations?

We know the world is changing fast and that climate change is already here. We’re feeling its effects right now. That’s why we as a company decided we needed to take bold action now.

Our new Climate Change Plan provides a blueprint to help us achieve two ambitious goals: to become a net-zero carbon company by 2040 and to help the markets where we operate achieve net-zero carbon economies by 2050. Our hydro operations are key to achieving our goals. Continued investment in our hydro fleet, and helping them adapt and become resilient to climate change, will be instrumental to us achieving our goals. We will also be relying a great deal on technological innovation and growth of new clean energy sources, like Small Modular Reactors.

Ultimately, we want OPG to be a catalyst for efficient, economy-wide decarbonization and economic renewal, while protecting the environment. We want to embrace innovation and new clean technology in all its forms to help meet our climate change goals while creating new jobs, nurturing new industries and helping to electrify other sectors of the economy.

We know our goals won’t be easy to achieve and the way forward won’t always be clear. A big part of our climate plan is to adjust as necessary to new regulations and new technologies in the coming years, and to be transparent about our progress as we go along. But with this plan acting as our guide, and with the help of our talented employees, I’m confident we will be able to achieve our targets.

Q: Do you see hydro’s role changing significantly as your resource mix changes, through for example the retirement of coal-fired plants like Nanticoke and your strong commitment to nuclear power?

The closure of our coal plants would not have been possible without the support of our hydroelectric and nuclear generating stations, which provide both important baseload as well as load-following generation.

We know demand in our province and North America will only grow in the future with increased electrification. To meet this demand, and help our economies reach net-zero carbon emissions, we will definitely be looking to new sources of clean generation, like Small Modular Reactors and potentially hydrogen power. But existing and new hydro, as well as more renewable sources, will be needed as well to help us reach net-zero emissions.

Even as our supply mix changes, Ontario will continue to depend on its strong hydro base to support the clean electrification of carbon-heavy sectors like transportation. That’s why we’re continuing to invest in our existing hydro operations as well as new developments to serve future needs.

Q: OPG has some legacy hydro assets, such as the Calabogie Generating Station. Are you planning significant refurbishment work to maintain these long-lived stations?

At OPG, we’re very proud of our many legacy hydro stations, which have provided reliable, clean power for decades. To ensure these stations can operate safely and reliably well into the future, we have capital investment projects under way or planned at a number of our hydro sites to increase performance and extend their life.

Over the past three years, OPG has invested more than $1 billion into our Renewable Generation operations. In the coming years, we will be investing another billion dollars to refurbish and redevelop several key hydro stations in eastern Ontario, including our Calabogie station. Work is under way to rebuild this century-old station and double its capacity, with a target in-service date of 2022.

Calabogie Generating Station

We are also finishing up commissioning activities on a new, efficient 10-megawatt unit and powerhouse at our Ranney Falls station. And we’re replacing two legacy units at our flagship Sir Adam Beck I plant in Niagara Falls, which will add more clean generating capacity.

These are all very important projects for OPG and Ontario’s economy and reflect our commitment to ensure reliability, safety and performance from all of our hydro assets.

Q: At the same time, OPG is still building new hydro projects. The Peter Sutherland Sr. station is a fairly recent example. Do you envision continuing hydropower development work in the province?

The Peter Sutherland Sr. Generating Station in northeast Ontario was a great example of successful execution on a new hydro development. Along with our partner, Coral Rapids Power, the 28-megawatt station was placed into service ahead of schedule in March 2017 and is now producing enough clean electricity to power about 25,000 homes.  

Peter Sutherland Sr. Generating Station

This was also a great example of working with Indigenous communities, in this case the Taykwa Tagamou Nation, to form a positive and mutually beneficial relationship. Through Coral Rapids Power, the community has an ownership stake in the station and will benefit from its operation for the next 90 or so years.

Looking to the future, we will definitely be looking into opportunities for more hydro developments in Ontario if they make sense economically and environmentally. Some potential projects could include exploring opportunities for new hydro in the province’s Ring of Fire region as load develops there from new industry.

Q: As you mentioned earlier, OPG recently acquired a couple of hydroelectric producers in the U.S. What was the strategy and reasoning behind these acquisitions?

As you know, we acquired Eagle Creek Renewable Energy in 2018 and Cube Hydro in 2019. These two companies are now operating under the Eagle Creek Renewable Energy banner.

As our first-ever U.S. acquisitions, we wanted to leverage our decades of hydro experience in markets we were already familiar with to help grow our company. These acquisitions were also about helping to support decarbonization efforts in North America and aligning with our climate change plan.

I think the recent election results in the U.S. will improve policy alignment across North America that will foster a supportive environment for common goal-setting on climate change and technological advancement. The continued reliable and efficient operation of our U.S. hydro assets will be important to helping to support these new federal goals and complement other renewable technologies like wind and solar that are being rapidly built out in the U.S.

Going forward, we will continue to look for opportunities to acquire more small hydro facilities through our U.S. platform to increase clean power production, operate them in an environmentally sustainable way, and help grow OPG for the future.

Q: You are scheduled to speak during the Utility Executive Roundtable session upcoming at HYDROVISION International. Can you give us a sneak peek into a couple of the hot topics for OPG that you plan to cover?

I will certainly be going into more detail on our new Climate Change Plan and will discuss more about how our hydro resources fit into supporting our ambitious goals. I will also be touching on the impact the pandemic has had on our operations.

As it was for everyone, 2020 was a challenging year, and 2021 looks like it will be equally challenging. We have learned many lessons throughout this pandemic, and we’ve been implementing these in our business and operations to ensure we remain resilient and can keep providing an essential service to Ontario.

I am very proud of all of our talented and dedicated employees at OPG who have shown a remarkable ability to adapt to this unique situation. And I’m confident we will continue to be able to rise to the challenges in the coming year to help our company and our province emerge stronger.

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