By Scott DiSavino

NEW YORK, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Ontario will shut about 2,000megawatts of coal-fired power generation on Friday to reducecarbon dioxide and other emissions to combat global warming andimprove health.

These plant closures mark nearly a decade of effort toclose the province's coal plants and move toward a cleanerenergy future.

"A coal-free Ontario will reduce air pollution and theseclosures today bring us that much closer to replacingcoal-fired generation by 2014. Ontario will be one of the firstjurisdictions in the world to move from a past of dirty coalgeneration to a future of clean energy," Ontario Minister ofEnergy Brad Duguid told Reuters in an email.

Together the units, each capable of producing about 500 MW,could produce enough power for about 2 million Ontario homes.

Ontario plans to shut all 6,400 MW of coal-fired generationin the province by 2014.

Coal-fired generation is the single largest source of airpollution in Ontario and eliminating it from the supply mixwill be the largest climate change initiative in Canada, thegovernment said.

To replace the coal-fired generators, energy companies,including OPG, have spent billions to build new naturalgas-fired plants and wind farms, expand hydro facilities andreturn to service nuclear reactors shut years ago.

Since 2003, when Dalton McGuinty became Ontario's premier,the Energy Ministry said more than 8,000 MW of new cleanerenergy has entered service, including 1,400 MW of renewables,and more than 5,000 km (3,106 miles) of new and upgradedtransmission and distribution power lines.

And, as more plants enter service over the next few years,the remaining coal plants can retire or be converted to burnbiomass. Earlier this month, OPG said it would convert the215-MW Atikokan coal plant to biomass. [ID:nBw085704a]

There are four coal-fired power plants in Ontario all ownedby OPG - Nanticoke and Lambton in the southern part of theprovince and Thunder Bay and Atikokan in the north.

IT TAKES TIME TO SHUT COAL

Ontario started down this path in the early 2000s.

In 2003, new Ontario Premier McGuinty reaffirmed anelection promise to stop burning coal to generate electricityin the province by 2007 to reduce emissions of sulfur andnitrogen for health reasons and carbon dioxide to combat globalwarming.

In 2005, however, the province said the 2007 target wasunrealistic and the Nanticoke plant would have to remain inservice until 2009 because it was needed to maintain power gridreliability.

In 2006, Ontario pushed back the schedule to close theplants until 2014 after determining some of the units wouldstill be needed for reliability.

But, the province decided it could shut some units -Lambton 1 and 2 and Nanticoke 3 and 4 - four years ahead ofschedule on Oct. 1, 2010 since enough other plants were nowavailable to keep the grid stable. (Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)