Ontario electricity in the heat wave: who really pays the rent?

Yesterday was one of the hottest days of the year in the great province of Ontario. It was particularly hot in cities. Toronto baked, Ottawa sweltered, Kingston poached, London sizzled. Elsewhere across the province, it was just plain hot. I, however, enjoyed nice cool air conditioned air almost the entire day. So did millions of my fellow Ontarians. And to what do we owe that?

The look of near-perfect uselessness. The Wolfe island wind farm produced zero megawatts for four hours heading into the morning electricity demand peak on July 15. In exchange for this dismal performance, wind turbine operators are paid handsomely, by all Ontario rate-payers—including seniors and single mothers on low, fixed incomes.

The table below shows yesterday’s hourly nuclear, wind, and total electric power production. As you can see, wind was typically useless: at nine a.m., all eighteen mammoth wind farms across Ontario—yes, the much vaunted wind farms that cost the current Ontario government its majority position in the provincial legislature in the 2011 general election—were producing a grand total of TWO megawatts. (Total generation at that time was 21,424 megawatts.) That is some thank you.

The three tiny nuclear plants, on the other hand, all of which could easily fit into the area occupied by the Wolfe Island wind farm, likely set an all-time one-day power production record. At nine a.m., as the wind turbine fleet was somewhere collectively sleeping off a drunk, the nuclear fleet was cranking out 11,512 megawatts — 5,756 times the wind fleet’s output.

That excellent performance was accompanied by zero carbon pollution emissions. That is to say, Ontario’s most important electricity source is also its cleanest.

Hour Nuclear output Nuc. % total Wind output Wind % total Total output
0 11,805 60.11% 188 0.96% 19,638
1 11,463 65.77% 56 0.32% 17,428
2 11,455 67.74% 55 0.33% 16,909
3 11,448 69.86% 49 0.30% 16,387
4 11,464 69.34% 33 0.20% 16,532
5 11,504 69.04% 20 0.12% 16,664
6 11,525 65.46% 24 0.14% 17,605
7 11,494 61.81% 20 0.11% 18,596
8 11,488 56.86% 7 0.03% 20,203
9 11,512 53.73% 2 0.01% 21,424
10 11,720 52.15% 3 0.01% 22,473
11 11,793 51.71% 9 0.04% 22,805
12 11,809 50.81% 20 0.09% 23,240
13 11,838 50.09% 34 0.14% 23,632
14 11,847 48.76% 62 0.26% 24,295
15 11,842 48.63% 53 0.22% 24,353
16 11,831 48.72% 43 0.18% 24,286
17 11,821 49.10% 46 0.19% 24,076
18 11,823 49.43% 58 0.24% 23,918
19 11,819 50.07% 54 0.23% 23,605
20 11,841 49.77% 37 0.16% 23,791
21 11,880 49.71% 31 0.13% 23,899
22 11,840 52.87% 41 0.18% 22,396
23 11,802 55.98% 167 0.79% 21,084

Instead of planning yet more useless wind farms, the government should send out a big thank you to the men and women who work in Ontario’s workhorse power plants, and to those who keep the wires in good shape, and who run our power system.

30 comments for “Ontario electricity in the heat wave: who really pays the rent?

  1. Dr K S Parthasarathy
    July 17, 2013 at 01:33

    This blog reminds me of the summer in India last year. The contribution from renewables such as wind is location specific. When the commissioning of first Unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant was delayed because of unwanted public protests, the one source which came to the rescue of Tamil Nadu (a State in India) was wind power. Many days wind power generators cranked about 3600 MW. (Total installed capacity in Tamil Nadu is 7154 MW as om January 31, 2013)

    India does not have the luxury to choose a specific mode of power generation. All modes are encouraged. The nation’s ambition is ultimately to exploit the vast thorium resources for power production. The country is moving in that direction slowly and steadily
    K S Parthasarathy Ph D
    Former Secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board

  2. James Greenidge
    July 17, 2013 at 20:28

    That news ought be plastered on the billboards of every Toronto subway car.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

    • July 18, 2013 at 09:40

      James, great minds think alike. Riding the Red Rocket (Toronto subway) yesterday, I thought about how good such ads would look. What better way to demonstrate to hot and tired Torontonians than to swiftly carry them home in air conditioned comfort, cheaply and reliably, with Ontario nuclear power.

      • July 23, 2013 at 16:12

        While I can see the point you put forward on the generation and C02 emissions, there are more outputs from nuclear power than just C02. Steve I wonder if you have volunteered your basement or car port for the storage of the nuclear waste until it can be recycled? I know I would prefer to have a wind farm in my backyard even if my 3 children had to step over a few dead birds rather than have nuclear waste stored in that same backyard. Also what is the total generation capacity of the wind farms compared to the total capacity of nuclear generation?

        • July 23, 2013 at 16:22

          No problem — put nuke waste in my basement. It’s not harming anyone on the sites where it currently is, and it won’t cause problems in my basement.

          “… what is the total generation capacity of the wind farms compared to the total capacity of nuclear generation?”

          Is that a serious question? Usually you wind proponents try to cover up these numbers, because they are so embarrassing for your cause. Total wind capacity in Ontario: roughly 1900 MW; total nuclear roughly 11,900.

          Wind typically has a capacity factor less than 30 percent, which is why shipping companies switched to COAL as soon as steam engines were invented and fitted for ships. Nuclear typically has a capacity factor of above 95 percent, which is why it is so cheap.

        • July 23, 2013 at 16:30

          I would like to point out that I am against the burning of fossil fuels and have a financial incentive for mining nuclear fuel going ahead here in Australia – I just don’t think nuclear is a long term solution to our energy demand.

          • July 23, 2013 at 16:37

            Chris — if you are against fossil fuels, then why would you support wind? Wind cannot survive on a grid without fossil backup!

            And how could nuclear not be a long term solution? It has operated successfully in grids all over the world since the 1960s.

  3. Andrew Porter
    July 18, 2013 at 13:59

    Yes, wind is not the only answer but it does not generate high level waste products that need to be safely stored for hundreds of thousands of years. Until nuclear is waste free, it must be considered a necessary evil, not a solution.

    • July 18, 2013 at 14:05

      Actually because wind must be backed up with a fossil source, it does produce waste — many millions of tons of CO2, which are dumped for free and which will be swirling around in the atmosphere for many eons after the used fuel radioisotopes have decayed into stable isotopes.

      Wind waste is many orders of magnitude more voluminous than nuclear waste, and longer lived. And it is irretrievable, whereas nuclear waste can (and should) be recycled and the fission products used as they are today, to protect Canada’s blood supply.

      • Andrew Porter
        July 18, 2013 at 14:16

        Yes, currently we may use CO2 producing peaker plants but it doesn’t have to be that away. Technology exists, or can be developed to store renewable energy until it is needed. That we have chosen not to do that doesn’t make it impractical. If we can split atoms, we can find a way to cost effectively store electricity.

        • July 18, 2013 at 14:20

          Let me know when that happens. As things stand today, my cell phone battery is losing charge, and I’ve barely had the thing for six months.

          Renewables aren’t hampered because of storage. The problem today, right now, is that we need electricity because we are heading into the afternoon peak period and we need every watt we can get. Wind is MIA, solar is non-existent. After all the talk, one would expect, you know, electricity. Renewables are useless because they are simply inefficient and unreliable. So you store inefficiently produced electricity — how does that benefit anyone?

          All three Ontario nuclear plants could easily fit into the Wolfe Island wind farm, and all their waste — generated over nearly five decades of continuous operation — is on site. Name another large scale industrial technology that is this clean.

          • James Greenidge
            July 18, 2013 at 14:43

            Funny thing about the waste argument is that anti-nukes act like nuclear waste has the ability to suddenly fly apart to the four winds at any moment instead of just sitting there quiet like a rock that isn’t bothering anyone buried underground. I doubt many know just how SMALL the amount of nuclear “waste” is. Unlike gas and oil, nuclear fuel rods are the same mass and dimensions coming out as going in. Can’t contain anything better than that! But it shows how good a job the antis have done on peoples heads and rationality. But then, there are the hard cores who have a Hiroshima-guilt/movie fear/mutant-driven philosophical beef about anything nuclear so nothing or proof or reality can ever assuaged them. So if they’re in progress’s way just go through them I say. (sorry for being non-PC)

            I wish your comment about Wolfe Island was smacked all over Toronto subways and buses too! That needlessly murdered view is just horrendous! Do you get it, Vermont??

            James Greenidge
            Queens NY

          • Andrew Porter
            July 18, 2013 at 14:45

            It is safe until a Fukushima type event occurs.

          • July 18, 2013 at 14:48

            Fukushima, great example. How many people have died from radiation because of the Fukushima meltdowns? How many have even been hospitalized becaue of radiation? Zero.

            Spineless politicians in Germany might live in fear of phony-green drama queens chaining themselves to the road over this harmless event, but in Ontario we have our wits about us.

          • James Greenidge
            July 18, 2013 at 18:19

            “It is safe until a Fukushima type event occurs.”

            What is it in the phrase “zero deaths/injuries” that anti-nukers don’t comprehend and green groups fear to mention? All I can say is there are thousands of widows and headless families of victim oil/gas worker breadwinners around the world who dearly wish the accidents in those industries were as awful and “deadly” as what occurred at Fukushima. Not even to talk about unsung whole neighborhoods put away by fossil accidents. I only wish the Japanese media cut the hysterics with a little rationality rooted in reality and facts instead of nightmares and cowering fear, no matter how historically driven.

            James Greenidge
            Queens NY

  4. Percy Fox
    July 18, 2013 at 16:21

    Someone said there was no cancer in Fukushima. Wrong: http://japandailypress.com/fukushima-thyroid-cancer-cases-rise-to-12-confirmed-15-suspected-0530049/

    Also, I know it’s also not perfect but I wonder how much strain would be removed from the infrastructure if every warehouse roof had solar electric panels? It seems to me the disincentive for solar is all legislative and tax, not science.

    • July 18, 2013 at 16:28

      Disincentive for solar?? Rooftop solar gets 40 cents a kilowatt-hour under the FIT program!

      Your link to the Fukushima thyroid article: the article says this:

      “The researchers were quick to say that so far they do not believe the increase is related to the nuclear crisis. “

  5. david
    July 18, 2013 at 17:00

    506 MW being produced now at 6pm during the heat wave. that’s alot of coal and gas that’s not being burned. that’s cleaner air and lives saved. that’s gas and coal Ontario isn’t importing and paying for. They like to pick the one day when wind is at its lowest and say see its not reliable. Its working fine saving lives from air pollution keeping Ontario cleaner and sustainable. no Fukushima disaster from wind no explosions killing people and solar and wind are the future since the price is dropping dramatically for both at the same time fossil fuels are rising. OH and climate change – ya that.

    • July 18, 2013 at 20:09

      “no Fukushima disaster from wind no explosions killing people and solar and wind are the future… .”

      No explosions killing people?? You need to look further afield than anti-nuke websites. Nobody has been hospitalized by radiation at Fukushima, let alone killed. Natural gas, your favourute fuel, explodes and kills people all the time; google “natural gas explosion” and see for yourself. That’s your “clean” fuel backing up your unreliable wind/solar. And dumping millions of tons of carbon pollution into my air in the process.

      Wind is the fuel of the past. Remember sailing ships? They became extinct as soon as the steam engine was developed. That was in the 1800s. If you don’t agree, then start your own sail-powered shipping company. Go local, start on the Great Lakes. See how fast you go out of business competing against companies that can deliver cargo on the delivery date.

      • July 23, 2013 at 16:14

        The steam engines of the 1800 ran on coal – so was that point for or against nuclear?

        • July 23, 2013 at 16:17

          Yes steam engines ran on coal. i.e. wind was then and is today so unreliable that every shipping company switched away (and the ones that didn’t went bankrupt). Fission was unknown in the 1800s; even radioactivity wasn’t discovered/identified until 1895.

          • toby
            July 24, 2013 at 05:05

            YOu are wrong about steam instantly replacing sailing ships.

            If you look at pictures of ships like the Sirius and the Great Eastern you will see they had both paddles AND sails.

            That is because early steam engines were unreliable and dirty, needing to be cleaned periodically. Steam-only vessels were only suitable for river and coastal work. AFAIK, the first screw-driven all-steam engine liners came in the 1880s, well after the invention of the steam engine.

            Ironic that wind was a back-up for coal, and captains often used sails when the winds were favourable to save on coal. Tea and wool clippers racing along the Roaring Forties from China and Australia were faster than steam engines for many years.

            BTW, I tend to agree with you about nuclear but I think wind does have a place in the energy portfolio of the future. Getting rid of natural gas is the top priority, IMHO.

            But at least you can get your historical analogies right.

          • July 24, 2013 at 15:38

            Interesting, and yes the transition from sail to coal-fired steam was of course not as abrupt as I put it. The bottom line though is dependable fuels (coal then oil) almost totally replaced the long-standing but unreliable one (wind) for marine shipping. This though wind is “free” and certainly extremely powerful.

            The transition occurred for very obvious economic reasons. That is my point. Wind’s unreliability in Ontario produces exactly the same economic obstacle. The only way that turbine owners have gotten over that inherent obstacle is by persuading the government to tilt the market in their favour, i.e. give them (i.e. force us ratepayers to give them) money at a rate that far exceeds what we give to the incumbent generators who produce more power more cleanly and reliably.

            This has been done for reasons that are dressed up in environmental terms but are in reality laughably spurious to anyone who bothers to spend time analyzing the situation. Most people don’t.

    • July 18, 2013 at 20:16

      “They like to pick the one day when wind is at its lowest and say see its not reliable… .”

      The one day?? Have you been paying attention every summer that wind turbine production data has been reported on the IESO website? Obviously not. This happens all the time. It’s because wind is unreliable.

  6. Andrew Porter
    July 18, 2013 at 19:15

    The document http://www.nei.org/CorporateSite/media/filefolder/WHITE-PAPER-Cost-of-New-Generating-Capacity-in-Perspective.pdf?ext=.pdf. demonstrates the lifetime cost of nuclear (excluding decommissioning) ranges from $76 to $115 per MWh (in the US). It also shows wind can be generated in a similar range. Solar PV is considerably more but has other benefits.

    In Ontario, a typical $40,000 10kW Solar PV system can generate 219,537 kWh over it’s 20 year lifetime at an average cost of $182/MWh (excluding incentives). Yes, this varies throughout the day/year and is not dependable but looking at any satellite image of Toronto will show many residential houses with suitable roof space to generate power when demand is highest. Each house is only producing a small amount, say 20-31kWh per day but that is sufficient to support one or two houses and is quiet and safe. At end-of-life, the equipment can be recycled.

    As I pointed out, the use of chemical, mechanical or electronic technologies can also be developed to capture and store surplus energy which can mitigate the dependability issues related to renewables.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am not totally against nuclear. It is better than coal and gas. But nuclear is not a perfect solution. It is hugely complex and expensive to develop, it requires mining, refinement and transportation of a potentially dangerous fuel source, it generates waste to be safely and securely stored (MWNO reports just over two million used fuel bundles are currently stored in Canada) and despite all assurances, accidents like Fukushima can happen.

    I propose having renewables as part of a diversified energy portfolio is both achievable and desirable. It is obvious to me, however, we will not be able to agree on that point.

    • Peter Aplin
      July 21, 2013 at 20:43

      Andrew: For the purposes of the current argument, nuclear IS the perfect solution; risk is low comparatively, zero emissions from generation process,and it stands alone in its reliability.
      A recent event in Lac Megantic,in Quebec’s eastern townships, demonstrates the dangers associated with fossil fuel reliance, talk to any rural person in Southern Ontario about FIT and the wind generation debacle – guaranteed you will get an earful of negativity about that.
      Spent fuel is stored onsight , it is not a burgeoning heap, rather a small, safely stored future fuel source.
      A further plus, what other industry can toil safely for decades in a downtown Toronto neighborhood without garnering even a passing glance from the residents of the neighborhood(until a recent expose was done by anti-nukes, nothing of note had come out of our local fuel pellet manufacturer…except the fuel for the cleanest energy generation in the province!).

  7. Steve Foster
    July 19, 2013 at 09:11

    9:45AM, July 19: Wind is finally joining the battle with 960MW. Whoo Hoo! Better late than never? Perhaps… but at what cost for what net benefit?

    • July 19, 2013 at 10:20

      it’s the let-downs that underline wind’s uselessness. If it’s not there when we need it (i.e. during nearly this entire heat wave), then we have to supply the required power from real sources. Which puts us right back to the beginning — what kind of generators should provide the real electricity? I say zero-carbon nuclear, the entire mainstream enviro movement says carbon-heavy gas.

  8. robert budd
    July 21, 2013 at 18:19

    Having lived on wind and solar a couple decades I can tell you wind this past week is typical summer performance. Thats why the gov’t saying wind was an air quality/coal relief strategy was an evil joke.
    The original G.E. viability report on winds compatability with On. grid was wildy optimistic re. summer time capacity value. Energy Probe cricized it at the time. the basis for wind here was flawed from the get go.
    In Ontario is it has a marginal capacity factor that is “lumpy” and will typically let us down at peak demand times in summer and to a lesser degree in winter.
    It will perform maximally in the shoulder season when our demand is down and hydro is abundant. If you watch http://www.sygration.com/ you’ll see even daily peak production hours are typically mid night low demand times. Thats where the crazy power negative HOEP prices devalueing the public owned utility generators.
    Wind will almost always be a low value contribution to this system, given its already quite clean. Large scale wind is a dumb investment avenue for the “public good”. Great for gas/oil interests and wind developers though.
    If you like rooftoop solar here go for it, but its not worth $.40/kwr as far as benefit. Better to invest in more cost effective peak demand reduction strategies. Net metering it is fine provided it doesn’t create a reduced nuclear contribution in daytime, only to see demand peak at 6pm (typical now) after solar gives up. Then we’ll ramp up gas/coal emissions big time.
    Large groundmount solar on landscapes in On. are criminally stupid and even short term solar storage has a big cost/efficiency penalty.
    Why do so called environmentalists who oppose nuclear and advocate R.E.not recognize they are promoting very low density power sources that requires ever greater, never to be satisfied exploitation of natural areas?
    Have a look at Germany now(Eco-Blowback: Mutiny in the Land of Wind Turbines-Der Spiegal)
    and recognise the cost to the environment for emissions intensity 4X ours…and coal reliance of 50% and growing.
    Given the C02 challenge and growing human population at expense of bio-diversity, trying to replace nuclear with expansive wind and solar could be our last big error.

  9. pepe
    October 30, 2013 at 22:01

    What about hydroelectricity?

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