The Saturday Toronto Star carried an interesting report on Ontario’s demand for electricity. A graph at the top of the Star piece shows the demand from 2001 to 2009. In 2001, Ontarians used 147 billion kWh; in 2009, 139. On that basis, the report says, demand is drifting down. Is it really? Because when you back up a little, and look at demand from 1994 to 2009, as in the graphic at the top of this post, you see the “down-drift” is really just a down-blip.
That’s the problem with graphs: they have a way of dramatizing things that look irrelevant when you take a longer view. Sometimes they “show” what their authors want you to see. Why did the Star’s graph start in 2001? Because that trend-line dramatizes how wrong the power system planners were when they predicted in 2007 what demand would be. Had the graph started in 1994, as does the one at the top of this post, you would see why the 2008 projection was for 158 billion kWh instead of the actual 148—power demand in Ontario had been trending up since 1994.
Will the up-trend continue? The City of Toronto predicts that the population of the Greater Toronto Area—the biggest population centre in the province—will have grown by 2031 to 7.45 million from 4.78 million in 1996. That is a population increase of 2.67 million. My guess is those 2.67 million extra people will need electricity, as will all the businesses that serve them.
The Star piece should have explored more fully why demand “drifted down” between 2007 and 2009. There are two main reasons. The worst economic downturn since the Great Depression is one: the recession hit major power users across Ontario. These include the auto industry, pulp and paper, and mineral/metal processing.
The exceptionally mild summers of 2008 and 2009, when hardly anyone in the province of Ontario ran their air conditioners, are the other reason. The coincidence of these two demand factors was the perfect storm for demand projections.
Plus, the strike against Vale-Inco in Sudbury, which I won’t relate to the recession but rather to corporate/union relations, freed up literally hundreds of millions of kilowatt-hours for more than a year.
The Star piece points out that a Greenpeace activist actually predicted back in 2005 that demand in 2010 would have dropped 10 percent. Does that prove that Greenpeace is able to predict both the weather and economic performance? Sadly no. It was a lucky guess. Greenpeace has been predicting hot weather, not cool, ever since they discovered that global warming is a sure-fire fundraiser. As for the economy, they would prefer we all shiver by candlelight. They have been advocating the demise of the western lifestyle since their inception as an organization, and like all misanthropic advocacy theirs is predictive, as in wishful. They say the same thing in boom and bust.
When you consider that Greenpeace, like all anti-nuclear “environmental” groups, constantly reassures people that we really don’t need all that much electricity, you wonder what their game really is. The Star piece gives a hint. It quotes the head of the Association of Major Power Consumers in Ontario as saying that natural gas-fired plants, “which cost hundreds of millions, can be installed relatively quickly to fill gaps in supply.” The upshot?
The risk is less than that of nuclear plants, which cost billions.
In other words, relax. If it turns out we’re wrong and demand does rise back up, we can quickly bring gas-fired plants online. Forget that the cost comparison—hundreds of millions for gas plants, versus billions for nuclear—refers to capital costs, not fuel costs. If fuel costs were compared, more people might realize that the reason off-peak power is cheapest is because most of it comes from nuclear plants. That means nuclear plants are cheaper to run than gas plants. Which in turn means a better long-term plan would be to build more nuclear, not gas.
In spite of this, the greens are advocating, most covertly but some overtly, a natural-gas strategy.
Is this really what the green groups want? Do they really want to expand the market for natural gas, a fossil fuel that produces greenhouse gases in huge quantities, in Ontario?
The answer is yes. By opposing nuclear generation, which produces zero greenhouse gases, the greens are ensuring that Ontario has no alternative but to adopt gas on a massive scale. Major green groups like Environmental Defence aggressively support gas plants, as witness their campaign to build a gas-fired peaker plant on the Holland Marsh. I guess expanding the fossil fuel market is more important to them than protecting sensitive wetland.
And since I led this post off by talking about graphs and trends, check out this source on petroleum and gas prices. By default, the gas price graph shows the price trend over the past month. Put your cursor onto the 1q view, then onto the 1y and 5y views. Notice on the 5y view how the low gas price coincided almost exactly with the two factors I mentioned above: the economic recession and mild summers.
Now, what do you think the gas price will do when the economy picks up again, the weather goes back to normal, and electricity demand resumes its upward trend?