Ontario’s Alternate Power Reality

Just yesterday there was a news item that here in Ontario our power rates are going up again effective the first of May. In one of the discussions there was a link to an interview with Premier Wynne in the Ottawa Citizen where she mentioned that the government was dedicated to pushing power rates up and up, referencing the Long Term Energy Plan of 2013, released mid 2014.

So I located it online and started reading it — and a couple of items really attracted my attention, shock really:

1. The document shows power rates climbing steadily for years, leveling off likely after I will no longer care. This levels off somewhere around 50% higher than we are seeing now. And we already have the most expensive power in Canada and racing parts of the US for the most expensive in North America. And unlike many places I have lived, the cost to get power to my door is ‘distribution’ and is effectively a multiplier on this number. In our current bill the ‘cost’ of electricity is less than 50% of the total. So the numbers they toss around are somewhat egregious. The Premier feels we need to pay the ‘real’ cost of power and are not yet close. More on this later.

2. Their graphs show a plan to expand wind turbines until they account for 1/3 of Ontario’s power. Explains why every bit of prime farmland and vacation land is being covered with these things over the objections of the locals and one suspects their own environmental laws and treaties. The odd part of this is the Province cannot absorb the current amount of wind generation due to a simple fact of weather-tied power generation that seems to have slipped by. The wind blows when the wind blows… a detail that was observed in the early GE analysis. And in Ontario that is typically NOT when the peak power demands are. So the surplus is exported to the US at a deep loss and the difference added to the cost of power we pay — the wind guys get 0.18/kw but the power is sold for 0.03/kw. Solar is even worse… don’t ask.

Recently IESO got a reprieve on the requirement that wind have guaranteed access to the grid. So rather than compromise stability with these barely predictable surges of wind power, IESO is allowed to pay them to NOT generate power. Our Energy Minister states that power exports are profitable — but he neglects to mention for whom. My bet it is not the Ontario power consumer.

This brings us back to the question of the true cost of power. I suspect the real number independent of these ‘green’ power initiatives, the ‘smart’ grid (read central control is good for you) and the various science projects (like inertial storage of utility power) is probably still modest. Let us not forget that to accommodate the build out of these pinwheels both nuclear and hydro are being deliberately wasted. Much of the soaring cost is forcing the users to eat the losses resulting from the overproduction of wind power. What is curious is that a justification for the breakup of Hydro was their off the ranch experimentation wasting taxpayer money — and yet here we are again, even worse.

3. In a number of places the Minister refers to energy conservation as a new, clean power source. There are a number of graphs that show this power source as being added to more tangible forms of power like hydro or nuclear. To be fair, there is a footnote that suggests in some places this is recognized as generation construction avoidance. But from various statements in the LTEP and associated documents it is not at all clear that the Minister really understands it as such. The term is thrown about in a manner similar to suggestion that famine were a new food source. The parallel is apt — just as healthy bodies need adequate nutrition, a healthy economy needs affordable power. Just not here, it seems.

4. Despite the assertion that the government is pushing for more renewable power, there is nothing renewable about the explosion in gas turbines all over the place. We can see the Napanee plant from our window — being built right next to the existing idle Lennox generating station, also gas/oil. And by locating these things far from the point of use, they are really maximizing the transmission losses on the generated power.

5. And there is an odd thing to about the comment about the true cost of power — the LTEP has a couple of cost graphs that show nuclear refurb is about the cheapest power and wind sits smack in the middle of new nuclear. But to build a nuclear plant requires long term political stability. Not a characteristic of politics here — the weather is more stable and predictable than a politicians promise. Even this year.

6. But wait, there is more. The one thing we don’t really know and are definitely NOT looking at is what the long term impact will be on the Province. Remember that it is the prime farmland and recreation areas of Ontario that are being covered. Wind farms interfere with global circulation in a number of ways — they add turbulence that enhances heat transfer, so downwind it is both hotter and drier. There have been some studies that suggest the low level vibrations drive out earthworms. Will this impact agriculture? And do we care? There is always California… (no, wait!)

And from a weather perspective, Ontario is a small place with insufficient geographical diversity to have a variety of wind regimes — watch the Sygration reports, more often than not the wind farms all get idled at the same time. The Germans found that this was true even on a very small scale — pulsations in wind occurred across large areas and made for surges in output that were, shall we say, problematic. So the argument that the wind is always blowing somewhere is still valid — only on a far larger scale than their imagination.

All of this reminds me of that scene in Alice where the Red Queen is going on about all the impossible things she does before breakfast. Any of this seeming familiar? We seem to be swirling down that rabbit hole — and I am looking for the White Rabbit. Or perhaps it really should be the blue pill.