What runs Toronto? An instructive snapshot from the last few days

Toronto runs on electricity: to be precise, close to 25 billion kilowatt-hours of it every year. Throughout the entire life of every single man, woman, and child in Toronto, the experience has been: you get electricity when you need it, whether it is for air conditioning, lighting, watching TV, listening to music, taking the subway or streetcar or an elevator, in any combination—regardless of the time of day. But it doesn’t happen by magic.

This is one way Toronto residents got cool in the recent heat wave. Most Torontonians didn’t frolick in water sprinklers though. Most used electric powered air conditioning. Good thing there was plenty of nuclear-generated electricity to keep Toronto and the rest of Ontario cool in the heat wave. The provincial wind turbines collectively took that day off, and returned to work the next day, when it was cool and their output was not needed.

The table below shows daily generation output by fuel, since June 1. As always, the provincial nuclear generator fleet generated by far most of Ontario’s electricity: at least sixty percent of the provincial total in each of the six days shown.

It is this kind of electricity that has produced the experience of Toronto residents I just described. Apart from the occasional local distribution-related blackout, and one humdinger of a general continental blackout like in August 2003, none of them has ever experienced a situation in which power was not available exactly when they needed it.

And that is the way it should be. Could you imagine getting onto an elevator and seeing a sign that reads “This elevator is 100 percent wind powered”? Would you press the button?

Ontario electricity generation, from June 1 to one p.m. June 6, in million kilowatt-hours (source: Independent Electricity System Operator www.ieso.ca)
Day 1 2 3 4 5 6
Fuel             Total so far
Nuclear 243.96 235.44 242.85 248.30 250.71 126.05 1,347.31
Hydro 109.81 92.44 102.28 99.49 102.11 52.20 558.33
Wind 19.18 26.21 9.45 4.61 8.07 7.94 75.46
Gas 23.73 21.00 26.42 34.58 33.68 18.28 157.69
Coal 2.90 0.00 1.13 1.15 1.71 1.06 7.95
Other 2.75 3.39 4.02 4.03 3.96 2.07 20.21
Total 402.33 378.47 386.14 392.17 400.24 207.60 2,166.94

As you can see from the table above, June 1 (Saturday) has so far been the highest-demand day this month. Why was that? Last Saturday was a sweltering, humid day, that’s why. Everybody in Ontario had their air conditioner on, and air conditioners use a lot of electricity. The next day was much cooler; as you can see, Ontario’s electricity generators were not called on to produce nearly as much as they were the day before.

Nevertheless, the provincial wind fleet actually generated more on the cool Sunday than it did on the sweltering Saturday. Because wind generation increased on the low-demand Sunday rather than on the high-demand Saturday, that meant some other form of generation had to decrease its output: according to the grid priority rules in Ontario, wind generation must be accepted onto the grid regardless of whether it is needed or not.

So, as you can see, other generation types reduced output on Sunday; these included nuclear, which fetches roughly between 5 and 6 cents per kilowatt-hour; and hydro, which fetches around 4 cents.

And what does wind generation fetch? Why, usually more than 11 cents; in fact, a lot of wind-turbine owners in the province get 12.5 cents. They would never have gotten into business unless they were guaranteed 12.5 cents. That is because, as illustrated in the table above, they don’t make enough power per unit of time to make a profit at more reasonable rates than 12.5 cents. Notice wind output on June 4, which was a weekday (Tuesday): it was a paltry 4.6 million kWh, not even one-fifth what it was on Sunday. Is this an energy source we want to depend on? Can we run subways and elevators with wind power?

Twelve and a half cents per kWh is very expensive electricity. No ratepayer in his right mind would agree to pay such a high rate for such low-quality, unreliable electricity. So the owners of wind turbines have convinced the government to force Ontario ratepayers to pay them 12.5 cents to go into business. Those 12.5 cents are hidden from ratepayers; they are buried in the Global Adjustment, a cost recovery mechanism designed to provide owners of generators a guaranteed rate. (Scott Luft, at his excellent site Cold Air, follows the GA very closely and publishes analyses regularly; required reading if you follow Ontario electricity.) Most ratepayers never see the Global Adjustment on their power bills; so most are not even aware they have been forced to pay wind turbine owners the exorbitant 12.5 cents for unreliable electricity.

And why would we set up a rule that forces the grid to accept an expensive, unreliable source of power, when there are far more reliable and cheaper sources available?

Good question.

Please note that I am not opposed to the Global Adjustment. I am not opposed to paying power generators a guaranteed rate. But I want the rate to be affordable, and I want quality electricity in return. As you can see from the table above, we get quality electricity from nuclear and hydro. We do not get it from wind.

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10 years ago

“And why would we set up a rule that forces the grid to accept an expensive, unreliable source of power, when there are far more reliable and cheaper sources available?”

The term ‘regulatory capture’ comes to mind.

10 years ago

“And why would we set up a rule that forces the grid to accept an expensive, unreliable source of power, when there are far more reliable and cheaper sources available?”

When laid out concisely, the situation really seems beyond absurd. Hydro + nuclear fleet can meet nearly 100% of demand for less than 1/2 the cost. The cost disparity is in fact even worse when the balancing gas plants are factored into the equation. I’m sure it must cost a lot to have them idling on the sidelines waiting for the wind to dip. Do we know how much THAT side of the wind project is costing us per MWh of wind power delivered? What on earth is going to happen now that gas price has doubled from $2 to $4 / MMBTU and will likely double again to $8?

Why the hell go through such an exercise when the goal, slashing CO2 at the best price for ratepayers, is impossible to meet using a non-dispatchable source of power on our grid with a pitifully low capacity factor without storage?

The only answer I can come up with is that we have been duped by fossil-fuel pedlars and their legions of lobbyists, waiving copies of Amory Lovins’ works, who must have put the moves on Smitherman + McGuinty et. al. The only way to balance wind is to build gas plants. Ergo, building lots of wind locks in future gas sales no matter the price. Its gets worse because with 25% capacity factor, wind actually screws up efficient use of gas plants that are needed 75% of the time.

Slap some green lipstick on that pig… it is still a pig.

Ontario: YOU’VE BEEN HAD! When will someone please use some engineering sense to put a stop to this madness.

Steve Foster
10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

Yes, access to reliable and affordable energy is an essential public good right alongside universal access to basic education and health care. Anyone who subscribes to principles of social justice should be appalled at a green scam that doesn’t achieve the originally intended goal of efficient CO2 reduction but lines pockets of wealthy interests instead.

The true cost of wind must include the cost of the shadowing gas-plants because without them wind cannot be added to the grid. Do we have any idea of what the net cost per kWh of wind energy is with this factored in?

Jeff Walther
10 years ago

“Ontario: YOU’VE BEEN HAD! When will someone please use some engineering sense to put a stop to this madness.”

Never. No matter how much electricity prices go up, they can still hide the ball and claim the cause is something other than subscription to wind.

That’s what happened here in Austin, TX. Our rates were recently raised about 20%, despite record low natural gas prices, no burps in the coal cost, and 28% of our electricity coming from STNP. But we get a lot of wind. And even though the cost of that wind is theoretically allocated to “wind subscribers”, people who signed up for wind power, the wind power means that Austin now purchases a much higher percentage of electricity on the spot market to compensate for the unreliablity. And the cost of those increased spot purchases are allocated to *everyone’s* bill. Hence a huge increase.

Never mind the solar farm and the wood chip burning (wood chips!?!) facility.

Our rates were stable for fifteen years.

So, does the city admit that wind is the cause and was a mistake?

No, they point to the stable rates over 15 years, and in a time when fuel costs are at an all time low, claim that “we were overdue for a rate increase.”

It sounds reasonable on it’s face, so most people won’t examine it closely. But if rates didn’t increase for 15 years that doesn’t suggest that an increase is overdue, that suggests that rates were stable, and if they must increase now, that suggests something has changed — like foolish subscription to wind.

So, no, even when rates rise ridiculously; even when they rise enough to kill the poor and elderly in the summer and winter, the powers-that-be will point a misdirecting finger, and the public won’t wake up and realize that they’ve been conned, and some of their number have been murdered.

robert budd
10 years ago

Ontario really is a casebook now of how to screw-up a clean inexpensive, reliable electrical system.
They seem intent on degrading the value of the public owned utilities and driving up electricity cost to the public to the point wind and solar are made to appear competitive. But it’s the implications and inefficiencies around the wind and solar that are driving the cost in the first place.
It appears to be a gov’t in collusion with the wind/fossil industry being aided and abetted by ill-informed misguided greens like OSEA, Clean Air Alliance and Canadian Assoc. of Physicians for the Environment.
You can’t swing a cat without seeing Liberal beneficiaries to the GEA. Our defeated Liberal MPP and ex-minister is now a register lobbyist for Samsung and Leader Wind.
My big fear is the anti-nuke lobby (with NDP assistance)will push to the point refurbishment decisions will be swayed in favour of wind/solar/gas. A very bad decision for the environment.

robert budd
10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

But aren’t most of their supporters convinced they are helping the environment?
In converstion with their staffers you’ll hear of plans/desires (too controversial now to speak of publicly)for a massive investment in wind in Ontario with improved transmission to Quebec. Plus the “1000 points of light” plan for gas fired heat and light plants scattered around the GTA.
So it’s an electricity system based on the daming of major river systems in Quebec. Then massive impacts on our best ag. land and wildlife habitat with continuous wind turbines around and in the Great Lakes and natural gas with increasing frack content filling in all the gaps.
How does that serve the environment and how do they sell that to intelligent people? 🙁