A nuclear error: watching Ontario’s electricity system, I DON’T have no fear

Ontario’s nuclear generating fleet set a millennial monthly output record in March: it generated 8.72 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity (see the 2015 tab on this table). The fleet ran at an average power output of 11,717 megawatts through every one of the 2,678,400 seconds that made up the month, far more than enough to transport every millilitre of Toronto’s water from Lake Ontario through innumerable kilometers of pipes and up into every home, apartment, and condo in the city.

If that does not impress you, well try outputting an average of say 200 watts on a Concept 2 rower over a duration of let’s say one minute. Then imagine what it takes to output 58 million times that much, over 44,640 minutes.

Running a fleet of machines like this with such second-by-second, hour-by-hour, day-by-day reliability, for hundreds of days at a time, is a feat of technological excellence and managerial skill that often goes unrecognized. So let me recognize it now. Let me offer my congratulations to the employees of Ontario Power Generation and Bruce Power: congratulations for your amazing record in March, and for your amazing work always. You keep the lights on in this great province.

In light of demonstrable, unequivocal, real world climate change effects—sea level rise, increased storm intensity, and hotter heat waves—and in light of the unprecedented concentrations of CO2 that are being measured right now in ambient air in Hawaii, it is very encouraging to see such a magnificent nuclear output record in Ontario. Other jurisdictions that do not have a nuclear fleet would have, in the course of generating 8.76 billion kWh to run their societies, dumped gargantuan amounts of CO2 into the air.

And you did it without dumping a single gram of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the global atmosphere. Too many of us have treated the atmosphere like a giant garbage dump, to the point where the concentration of this greenhouse gas is now over 403 parts per million (see Item A1 in the upper right; it displays the latest reading from the Keeling CO2 Observatory in Hawaii).

A lot of people have taken the recently-ended winter, which was brutally cold in this part of the world, as proof that the theory of global warming is wrong. That is like saying that because I have just had a good hearty breakfast the theory of global hunger is wrong.

It certainly was a brutally cold winter here in eastern North America. And it was even colder in the mid-North Atlantic. But across the planet—and we should never forget we do live on a planet—it was among the warmest northern hemisphere winters on record. See the NOAA chart below. Note the blue in eastern North America, indicating temperatures 3° to 4° cooler than normal. I can personally attest to that—I spent the entire duration depicted in the chart in this region. It was cold. But also note the red, in many cases deep red, indicating temperature increases of similar magnitude, across most of the rest of the northern hemisphere.

According to this RealClimate article, the slowdown in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC, the major ocean current in the Atlantic Ocean)—a slowdown predicted in climate change models—may be the greatest such slowdown in the past 1,000 years. If this proves true, then what we are experiencing is a hugely dramatic physical effect of man-made CO2 emissions.

The alleged link between global warming and the AMOC slowdown has at this point not been proven; it is, as the RealClimate authors emphasize, just a hypothesis. But it is a compelling one. Especially alongside the other effects, likewise predicted in climate models, such as storms of increased intensity, sea-level rise, and hotter heat waves. These phenomena are not hypothetical. They are happening.

So, just as we should not take that wonderful feeling of having a belly full of good food to mean all people everywhere are similarly well fed, we should not confuse the steady minus-double-digits in eastern North America from mid-January to the end of February of this year with proof that global warming is not happening. It is happening.

In light of these real world phenomena—sea level rise, increased storm intensity, and hotter heat waves—and in light of the unprecedented concentration of CO2 that are being measured right now in Hawaii, it is very encouraging to see such a magnificent nuclear output record in Ontario. Other jurisdictions that do not have a nuclear fleet would have, in the course of generating 8.76 billion kWh to run their societies, dumped gargantuan amounts of CO2 into the air.

Ontario is going, within two weeks, to see what life is like with a big chunk of the nuclear fleet unavailable. The Bruce B station, which not only through the incredible month of March 2015 but since it entered service beginning in 1984, will come offline for a scheduled vacuum building outage. The VBO will last for about a month.

During that time, Ontario will get Bruce B’s 3,000 megawatts not from wind turbines or solar panels. It will get them not from “negawatts” a bogus conservation notion invented by Amory Lovins to pretend we don’t need electricity. No, Ontario will get those 3,000 megawatts from gas-fired power plants.

Right now (10:03 EST on April 02 2015) the CIPK of Ontario grid electricity is 24.3 grams. During the Bruce B VBO, it will be, in my estimation, not lower than 100 grams, four times as high. At most times of the day it will be higher.

There will be another VBO in Ontario this year; it will occur at the Darlington nuclear station which like Bruce B has a vacuum building as safety insurance against a LOCA (loss of coolant accident). I predict similar CIPK during the Darlington VBO.

What is troubling is that the entire Pickering nuclear station will come permanently out of service in around 2020. There are no plans to replace Pickering with new nuclear capacity.

Instead, Ontario will rely on carbon belching gas-fired plants, which will jack our CIPK permanently up to beyond 150 grams

Is this a nuclear error? I don’t have no fear. London might not be drowning, but many low lying coastal areas around the world will be, thanks to us in the industrialized rich west, who can but won’t stop using fossil fuels for power generation.

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scott medwid
5 years ago

The Greenpeace and Sierra Club dream of a wind water solar only electrical grid will mean generation by gas for back up as well as some base load generation. Most folks have no idea how many energy harvesting machines will have to be installed and maintained and then decommissioned when they wear out. solar only works when the sun is out and the panels are clean enough and wind is fickle. The article mentions Amory Lovins who when he was writing for Friends of the Earth, stated that we did not need nuclear power because we had plenty of coal and gas. His early book from the 1970’s are still around. The main environmental groups know that nuclear is clean energy but the big money behind the groups are funded by investments in fossil fuels.

Joseph Talnagi
5 years ago

What would it take to extend the life of the Pickering station? Seems like that might be worth considering if there are no planned nuclear replacement units. Otherwise its going to be natural gas and that will blow the CO2 emissions way high compared to where they are now.

Joseph Talnagi
5 years ago

I read up on the Pickering station and it looks to be in good shape. The owners have invested quite a bit in upkeep and refurbishment and I don’t see any engineering-based reason why it could not continue in operation, at least for awhile. There may be future need to spend some more on Pickering B but given it’s reliable operating history and the need to keep carbon emissions low, I don’t see why the authorities would not recognize that value. Perhaps a campaign based in Ontario but also with support from outside the province would help convince those in the know to give it a second chance. Ontario has led the way in reducing carbon emissions in the electricity generating sector that others would do well to emulate if they have the resources (e.g., the US Pacific Northwest). I would be a shame to relinquish that role because of shortsightedness or pressure from outside groups.

R Budd
5 years ago
Reply to  Joseph Talnagi

The big ongoing crime is the cancellation of the new Darlington reactors builds. They were in our LTEP’s from the days when engineers made technical descisions in Ontario. Now its folks who take Amory Lovins junk science as gospel.
Chiarreli announced a big Samsung wind contract the day before he told the press Ontario doesn’t need any more large generation projects and then cancelled the Darlington builds.
Now we get 440mw of wind and solar contracts going out every year instead. We’ll see much more gas capacity to make up for the hyper intermittancy, bad demand relationship and low capacity factors of Ontario’s wind/solar regime. Economic opportunism reigns now.
Those new Darlington reactors with their ramp depth would have allowed the GTA to electrify transportation and dealt with the provinces real emissions problem. And they could have accomodated most of the wacky impacts from the current solar/wind fascination in a cleaner. lower impact fashion than gas plants.

Joseph Talnagi
5 years ago
Reply to  R Budd

Does the Canadian government and other agencies offer the kind of subsidies to wind generation as are available in the US? I have often thought that many wind farm projects in the US are in business more to harvest the subsidies than they are to harvest wind power. I saw an article recently that the last abandoned windmill at the Ka Lae (South Point) wind farm was finally removed and hauled away at taxpayer expense. Ever been there? It is an incredibly windy location. You can stand at the cliff edge and almost get blown off. But the wind farms there couldn’t make it after the subsidies ran out. Hawaii alone has six abandoned wind farms.

Joseph Talnagi
5 years ago

Ka Lae probably has the strongest sustained winds I have ever experienced. The tree there literally grow sideways because of the strength of the winds. Several wind farms have been built there and they have all failed when their subsidies went away. They are building another one that the taxpayers and ratepayers will ultimately be stuck with. What was that definition of insanity again?

R Budd
5 years ago
Reply to  Joseph Talnagi

Ontario’s wind subsidies were high (next contracts will be under a supposedly competetive bid process) even relative to Germany and contained none of the claw back of rates they used there, once positive revenue was established.
. The GEA rates here were supposed to guarantee returns in the 10-15% range, but if you add 3mph to On. avg windspeed you double a turbines output. So good wind sites are were wildly profitable at a time when wind projects were flat in the US.
Thats why Ontario’s windy rural areas (except off-shore and GTA of course) were plastered with large high density projects and inadequate setbacks for neighbours..
As far as how good a resource wind is here, our highest capacity factors are ~32%. Folks in the PEI gov’t (they have their own power corp.) for example told me they wouldn’t even think of installing turbines with our wind speeds.
I’ve lived off-grid in On. for decades using wind in part and if anyone asked me I could have told them we have a very peaky resource here that is badly out of sink with Ontario’s demand. Lots of storage is necessary to make it useful.
Right now for example its a windy mild spring weekend, with very low demand and very high wind. Predictably wholesale electricty prices in the province are either $0/kwh or negative and we are manuevering reactors at our cost and spilling ~2000mw of hydro capacity.
A not so uncommon “bad day” for Ontario ratepayers.