The other day I was re-reading Gwyn Dyers’ column in the Globe&Mail regarding the impacts of the Green energy program — and one of the comments caught my eye. The suggestion was that the real beneficiary of the Green (Greed) Energy Act was the natural gas industry. And the more I think about it the more sense this idea makes — and perhaps, through the usual process of political corruption, explains why the Province has become increasingly obsessed with the idea as the real economic costs of their program mounts up.
The idea is this — wind and solar power, although visible, are intermittent. No society has been able to displace more than a small amount of their conventional power production through these technologies no matter how much they spend. Conventional, high efficiency and low cost power generation does not respond to fluctuating demand very gracefully — it may take hours to adjust output in the massive reactors at Bruce, for example. In off-grid applications the varying output of wind and solar gets fed into a big battery bank that provides a smooth trickle of power to downstream uses. But for power of the scale of the Ontario grid this is impractical and the geography is too flat to pump water up hill as proxy power storage.
But power generation from gas-fired turbines (essentially big jet engines) can respond very quickly to fluctuating loads — but need to stay hot, idling if you will, all the time — pumping combustion products into the air (greenhouse gasses). So in all likelihood the total amount of greenhouse gasses is increasing as Ontario rides roughshod over rural areas with these massive, forced deployments of wind and solar. Whatever GHG is saved through wind and solar is more than compensated for by the gas turbines. And a look at the power plants listed in ‘sygration.com’ shows that Ontario has been building a lot of them.
So the cynical thought is that all this ‘Green Energy’ that is being rammed down our throats and causing our power bills to soar is a loss-leader. The real, behind the scenes, beneficiary is the natural gas industry. And the surplus of natural gas that had been bemoaned in the press will have been profitably burned.
In a similar vein there was more recently a book review in the same place called ‘The Economics of Energy Conservation’ — which made the brilliant observation that higher costs made individuals and businesses be less wasteful with energy. Anyone who lived through the 1970’s oil embargo and the programs that came out of that would think… duh. What seems to have gotten lost in all of this is why?
Looking at the history of civilization one can see that more complex societies are produced by increasing the supply of energy, not decreasing it. We use vast amounts compared to our great grandparents — for water supplies, climate conditioning, lighting, transportation — the list is endless. And piling more people together in smaller spaces does not decrease any of this. So why do we care?
I think the roots of the problem were the ripples of the oil embargo and the idea that the supply of fossil fuel was running out. So conservation was the mantra to extend the existing supplies until other solutions were found. But in some minds this has become an end in itself — although somewhat entangled with the prospects of climate change. Problem is that the climate is changing (always has and likely always will) and there is some evidence (and a lot of opinion) that our aggressive burning of these same fossil fuels contributes. Ironically, the sulfur particles from coal burning actually held it back by fostering the formation of clouds while enhancing acid rain. It has been suggested that if our society collapsed and nothing further was burned it would be centuries before the effects were noticed.
But in public policy, certainly in Ontario, we have the monstrous meld of these ideas — higher power prices and associated conservation policies, environmental destruction for the deployment of ‘green’ power generation, cutbacks in construction of large-scale power plants and behind the scenes the frantic buildout of gas turbine plants. The gas industry are certainly big winners as are the vendors of the solar and wind technologies. Everyone else is demonstrably net worse off. An interesting public policy that would appear to harm the multitudes to benefit the few.