Economic activity in Grey-Bruce: the right kind of green jobs

Everybody who visits the Bruce nuclear station on Lake Huron is impressed. It is not only an enormous power producer—generating 4,697 megawatts of electricity as I write this—but also the economic engine of the Grey-Bruce region. It currently employs around 7,000 people: 3,700 full-timers who run the plant, and 3,300 contractors who are rebuilding units 1 and 2. This is the biggest infrastructure project in Canada. Almost all of the contractors are high paid, highly skilled tradespeople, working in exactly the kinds of jobs Ontario needs more of.

The term “green jobs” is often used when people talk about Ontario’s employment future. Wind turbines, which the green lobby touts as “green power” that creates green jobs, produce such unreliable power that they require a fleet of gas-fired plants running in parallel. After all, power consumers require real, not hypothetical, electricity. Since even the most efficient gas generator emits 550 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) for every kilowatt hour it generates, the wind-gas pairing hardly qualifies as green (see article).

And on the level of land use, or specifically the amount of power generated per unit of land, the wind-gas pairing is even worse. To get to the Bruce plant last week, I drove up to Owen Sound on Hwy 10. The route took me past the Melancthon-Amaranth wind farm north of Shelburne. It took me 5–10 minutes at 100 kilometres an hour to drive past this massive development. Wind turbines everywhere, and I must admit it all looked impressive.

But looks can be deceiving, and in this case they are. According to the Ontario Power Authority, 4,860 hectares (over 12,000 acres) have been optioned for the wind farm. Currently the farm is capable of generating 200 MW. That works out to 36.8 hectares (90.9 acres) per MW capacity. And that is just for the wind side of the wind-gas pairing. I have yet to calculate the hectares-per-MW for gas.

By contrast, the Bruce station sits on 930 hectares, less than one-fifth the size of Melancthon. It has today 4,500 MW of usable capacity, 22.5 times as much as Melancthon. (When units 1 and 2 come online next year, they will add an additional 1,500 MW for a total of 6,000 MW.) This works out today to 0.2 hectares, or 0.5 acres, per MW. I should add that the 930 hectares includes enough space for a “C” station, which could easily host at least another 3,000 MW of capacity.

In other words, the Melancthon-Amaranth wind farm requires 178 times as much land as Bruce does. And it will generate less than two percent of the actual electricity that Bruce does in a given year, assuming a 30 percent capacity factor for Melancthon and an 90 percent one for Bruce.

By every measure, the 7,000 jobs at the Bruce plant are green jobs. The 4,697 MW of power coming out of Bruce right now come with no emissions. By contrast, the intermittent energy produced by wind turbines must be backed up by fossil sources. Wind-gas is not green, it’s blue. Gas industry blue.

The Bruce site is also the bridge from Canada’s impressive nuclear past to its future. Douglas Point, the world’s first commercial CANDU power reactor, is there, with all of its used fuel: 42 canisters occupying an area roughly the size of an average suburban home. Think of it: the plant generated over 18 billion kilowatt-hours, and its used fuel—which still contains much usable material—is tucked away on site, occupying a tiny patch. A gas-fired plant producing the same amount of electricity would have also produced over 10 million tons of CO2, not one gram of which would still be at the site. Each and every gram of it would have been dumped into the atmosphere.

As I said, Bruce represents the bridge to Canada’s nuclear future. And the world’s too. One of the most exciting developments in nuclear power these days is the advent of small modular reactors (SMRs). Two of the leading companies in that area today are NuScale and Babcock & Wilcox. Both are pushing small light water designs, intended to be sold in packs of multiple units. While the eight Bruce units, at 750 MW each, don’t exactly qualify as small, the two Bruce plants are organized around multiple units. In terms of licensing and operating multi-unit plants, Bruce, and the other two CANDU plants in Ontario, have much to teach future operators.

When units 1 and 2 are fully refurbished and back online next year, what will become of the 3,300 high paid and high skilled tradespeople who are doing the job? No doubt many will work on upcoming CANDU refurbishments around the world. But I hope some go to work building the new Darlington reactors.

4 comments for “Economic activity in Grey-Bruce: the right kind of green jobs

  1. November 1, 2010 at 10:30

    This is a very good post. How does one verify your numbers on nuclear waste deposits. Not that I doubt you, but would like to see how this is tracked.

    You analysis is very similar to Robert Bryce’s (Editor of the Energy Tribune and author of Power Hungry) conclusion regarding power density or sprawl. Of course, the wind industry likes to make note that the land under turbines is still usuable for agriculture, it still does hide the fact that turbines cannot be place one by one beside each other, impedes further development and are limited since there is only so much land. As a farmer living within a project I did a rough calculation which included the laneways and land used by the turbines directly. I then tried to correlate this to the number of acres which has been expropriated from food production for severances of housing lots. The land base for turbines used up in one year equalled the amount of land severanced in my area for the last 40 years. That bothers me a lot considering that prime agricultural land and specialty crop areas is a limited resource.

  2. November 1, 2010 at 11:19

    Colette, thanks. The Canadian Nuclear Association has some information on spent nuclear fuel (we should really call it used nuclear fuel, since it still contains useful energy and should be recycled) at

    http://www.cna.ca/curriculum/cna_safety/nuclear_waste-eng.asp?bc=Nuclear%20Waste&pid=Nuclear%20Waste

    As for the specific site I mention in this post, Douglas Point, I drove past it during a visit to the Bruce station in late August. The used fuel is stored in concrete silos just outside the reactor containment building. The specific number of canisters, 42, was provided by the Bruce Power communications people.

    If you ever get the chance, you should pay a visit to the Bruce site. It’s very impressive. You might be surprised by how small the DP used fuel repository is. The Bruce site is right next to an Enbridge wind farm with 181.5 MW total capacity, which sits on 5,600 hectares. That’s right: the Enbridge farm occupies six times the land that Bruce does, and contains four percent of the capacity.

    Enbridge is getting a great deal. Ontario taxpayers are subsidizing that wind farm. Essentially, they are subsidizing a giant PR project designed to fool people into thinking wind is significant, while creating ever greater demand for Enbridge’s real product, which is natural gas.

    You make a good point about the waste of valuable farmland for a low-quality product like wind power. I heard an American wind/solar advocate, Mark Jacobson, on NPR last week saying that wind turbines actually use very little land because they’re on poles, which are “thin.” Amazing that policy is being written and implemented based on statements like that.

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