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.

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Dr K S Parthasarathy
10 years ago

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

James Greenidge
10 years ago

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

James Greenidge
Queens NY

10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

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?

10 years ago
Reply to  Chris Swenson

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.

Andrew Porter
10 years ago

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.

Andrew Porter
10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

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.

James Greenidge
10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

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
10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

It is safe until a Fukushima type event occurs.

James Greenidge
10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

“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

Percy Fox
10 years ago

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.

10 years ago

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.

10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

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

10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

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.

Andrew Porter
10 years ago

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
10 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Porter

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!).

Steve Foster
10 years ago

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?

robert budd
10 years ago

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.

10 years ago

What about hydroelectricity?