Obama signals non action on climate change, praises gas: meanwhile, Ontario gas plants dump 1,885 tons of pollution

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.

Obama and his climate change promises. I have hoped since 2008 that president Obama would actually do something that matches his rhetoric on climate change. Every time he promises something, I excitedly line up to pronounce on the real world implications, just like Charlie Brown lines up when Lucy promises to hold the football. And every time, I get the same result. When will I learn.

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:

Ontario electricity generation, and associated CO2 emissions, February 12 2013, roughly 10 p.m. (source: Independent Electricity System Operator www.ieso.ca)
Fuel Output (MW) Percent of total CO2, metric tons
Nuclear 10,537 53.45 0
Hydro 4,182 21.21 0
Gas 3,427 17.38 1,885
Coal 992 5.03 947
Wind 393 1.99 0
Other 184 0.93 25
Total 19,715 2,857

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.

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10 years ago

I do think Obama deserves some credit for regulating existing plants more forcefully, and the regulations on fuel consumption.
That said, I winced at: “Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more.”
Wind has no capacity value so it always requires a complimentary (preferably gas!) back up: for every MW of wind capacity a complimentary MW of reliable, but usually GHG emitting, capacity is always going to be built.

That’s not a reason to build more.

10 years ago
Reply to  Scott Luft

The problem with the latest regulations on power plants with regard to CO2 generation is that the limits are clearly set to exclude coal as a fuel source and give a pass to natural gas. While the reduction in CO2 generation is progress, the regulations essentially give a blessing to continued CO2 emissions at somewhat reduced but still high levels. To make a signficant reduction in CO2 emissions we need to encourage the construction more nuclear power plants.

10 years ago
Reply to  donb

This is very true.  The irony is that the limits are so loose, by my calculations a coal-fired plant could just employ a small gas turbine as a forced draft fan and burn powdered coal in the exhaust gas to heat the boiler, and still meet the standard.

James Greenidge
10 years ago

I REALLY think it’s WAY due time for nuclear professional organizations and atomic workers unions to pick up the banner dropped by the nuclear “industry” and start some no-nonsense serious self promotion via PSAs and mass media education programs and hot truth squads to challenge all accusations by anti-nukers any time anywhere. Any primary school grad could’ve told all that a politician steeped ass-high in “green energy” isn’t going to care a wilt about initiating any brand new nuclear projects much less sustain these existing. This is like the movie adage, location, location, location! Except to win public acceptance and favor, the nuclear community must stop zenning on their navels about reactor types and educate, Educate, EDUCATE! Gee whiz, must they be on their deathbed before they get the idea?? Get the Tylenol ad agencies to work on positive nuclear promotion — something! Doc Kaku must be laughing at his green promotion checks!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

10 years ago

Steve, not to complain, but the dynamically-generated Tables 1 and 2 are extending over the article text in my browser.

10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

I’m running Firefix 18.0.02 for Ubuntu.

10 years ago
Reply to  Engineer-Poet

er, Firefox.