Since Obama became president, I have wondered if he would ever make good on the lofty promises of action on climate change that he made in his 2008 election campaign. Every time he says something on the topic, my heart rises with hope and excitement, just like Charlie Brown’s does when Lucy entices him into kicking the football. And every time I come crashing down like Charlie Brown I swear I will never fall for that trick ever again. During the hour or so of the U.S. president’s state of the union speech yesterday, Ontario gas-fired power plants generated 3,427 megawatts of electricity and produced 1,885 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal greenhouse gas pollutant. Ontario nuclear plants during that same hour generated 10,537 megawatts, and produced no CO2. Wind turbines, touted by the president as part of the brave new clean energy future, generated, in Ontario, only 393 megawatts—less than 4 percent of the nuclear output, and not even 26 percent of the wind fleet capacity factor.
I’ll repeat the latter point, because it is important. The Ontario wind fleet capacity is over 1,500 megawatts. The actual wind performance during Obama’s State of the Union speech was 383 MW. That is not even a 27 capability factor.
This is why Ontario rate payers are forced, through legislation, to pay extremely high rates—in many cases over 12 cents per kilowatt-hour—to the owners of wind turbines for their paltry output. Those turbine owners were at ten p.m. yesterday only getting paid for a quarter of their capacity. If they were being paid at, say, the nuclear rate of 5 or 6 cents per kWh, they would go out of business for lack of adequate revenue.
If you think that wind energy is a cockamamie business to get into, you are right. You could not compete with the far cheaper sources, like nuclear, unless the government stacked the deck in your favour. And, seeing as Ontario is a democracy, and governments are selected by popular vote, a government that forces ratepayers to pay high rates to support an inefficient and unreliable energy source like wind could very conceivably be replaced in the next election.
Here is a snapshot of Ontario’s grid-connected electricity generation during the hour that Obama gave his State of the Union:
|Fuel||Output (MW)||Percent of total||CO2, metric tons|
In America, nuclear plants make about one-fifth of the electricity. That works out to more than 700 billion kilowatt-hours per year. The American nuclear fleet, like the Ontario one, dumps no CO2 into the air. Why would the president not mention this in a speech in which he promises to do something about climate change?
It might have something to do with all the natural gas advertisements that have been saturating the American television airwaves for the last number of years.
But if you look at the real world numbers that I have provided above, and if you track the hour-by-hour performance of the Ontario grid-scale generation fleet, shown in Tables 1 and 2 in the left-hand sidebar, you will see what delivers the actual goods when it comes to large-scale, reliable, cheap, zero-carbon energy.
It is not the wind energy that Obama has touted since 2008: wind is inherently unreliable. And it is certainly not the natural gas that he pitched in his speech yesterday: gas dumps far too much of the CO2 that Obama said causes climate change.
It’s the energy source at the top of the table, the one that powers Ontario night and day, cheaply and reliably, and that dumps zero grams of CO2 into the earth’s atmosphere.