Celebrating Earth Day in Ontario with favoritism and inefficiency: paying the worst employee the highest salary, staying addicted to fossil fuel

Last weekend was a windy one all over Ontario. Temperatures were between 5° and 10°C, meaning the grid had a very light load. (Temperature is a major factor influencing electricity demand.) Those who support wind power surely celebrated the uncommonly high electrical output from the province’s 30 grid-connected wind farms. Wind output averaged over 2,000 megawatts—close to the fleet capacity—on Sunday. But its annual capacity factor in Ontario is a lamentable 30 percent. The owners of those turbines definitely celebrated the windy weekend. They got paid very handsomely for their atypically high production—at least 11 cents per kilowatt-hour. The problem was, they were paid handsomely for power that the province essentially did not need but was obliged, under grid rules, to pay for.

Raising a windmill in Alberta, c. 1910. One hundred and five years later, Alberta has the third-most modern wind turbines in Canada—and by far the dirtiest electricity in Canada: roughly 900 grams of CO2 come with every kilowatt-hour of Alberta electricity, versus less than 49 grams for Ontario. This is because wind cannot play more than a marginal role in electricity production. If that were not true, Alberta would not be making most of its electricity with coal.

Raising a windmill in Alberta, c. 1910. One hundred and five years later, Alberta has the third-most modern wind turbines in Canada—and by far the dirtiest electricity in Canada: roughly 900 grams of CO2 come with every kilowatt-hour of Alberta electricity, versus less than 49 grams for Ontario. This is because wind cannot play more than a marginal role in electricity production. If that were not true, Alberta would not be making most of its electricity with coal. Photo courtesy of Alberta Culture and Tourism.

Meanwhile, the fleet of 53 hydropower generators and plants, many of which receive a rate regulated at around 4 cents, spent the weekend at 57 percent of its reported capability. That is just a bit better than half-speed.

This means that had we actually needed the power, we still would have opted to buy it from the (private sector) owners of wind turbines instead of from (publicly-owned) OPG.

Wind power fetches a high rate because of its inherent inefficiency—as I noted above, wind’s annual capacity factor in Ontario is not even 35 percent. When you need power, wind is typically not there to provide it. For that reliability, or lack thereof, wind receives high rates.

This is sort of like paying the lowest-performing employee, with the worst attendance record, a higher salary than the good-performing reliable employees who actually make a company viable.

Wind’s inefficiency is also why there is such animosity against it out in the rural areas where it must go. We hear so many rural people inveighing against wind precisely because of its inefficiency. To get meaningful amounts of wind power, you have to build enormous numbers of enormous wind turbines. This encroaches on people’s land and well being. Only urban environmentalists, who do not have to live near wind turbines and experience that form of urban sprawl, love wind turbines.

Wind power fetches a high rate because of its inherent inefficiency. When you need power, wind is typically not there. For that reliability, or lack thereof, wind receives high rates. Which is sort of like paying the lowest-performing employee, with the worst attendance record, higher wages than the good-performing reliable ones.

This has created another form of urban sprawl. Wind power is not intended for the rural areas. It is to provide power to cities. No rural resident in his right mind would attempt to run his home on wind power. This was attempted numerous times in the history of North America. Windmills to drive farm equipment were introduced in the U.S. before the Civil War, and according to John Lienhard of the University of Houston, “Countless companies made versions of [wooden] windmills” right up to the 1940s. In Canada, much research was done at the provincial (Quebec) and national level to make wind efficient (see article). All efforts were abandoned. Until the modern era, when governments, misled by environmentalists into thinking wind had been neglected by utilities, forced wind into grids through enticements such as those in Ontario.

Without those enticements, nobody would be building wind turbines in Ontario, or anywhere else.

And in Ontario, as last weekend proves, we don’t even need to overpay inefficient power producers. We can get clean electricity from much cheaper sources, like hydro and nuclear.

What goes unnoticed and unreported is that environmentalists, who call for energy efficiency, are in reality promoting the least efficient form of power generation. Or that wind makes the rest of the grid inefficient.

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R Budd
5 years ago

Yes the folks in the GTA who might as well have signs declaring it a renewable energy free zone, seem to love the thought of a vast fleet of turbines (someplace else) powering their world.
Out here in turbine alley…not so much of that fascination. It is truly a head scratcher that at a time when the shortage of good ag. land and wildlife habitat loss is staring us in the face, so called enviromentalists advocate passionatly for the most expansive, energy intensive and destructive forms of genaration available to Ontario.
Most of the turbines and access roads are on good flat class 1 land, in the most important wildlife habitat areas we have around the Great Lakes. Now the gov’t is trying to skirt the resentment in these areas by allowing projects on Crown Land.
So we have ~30 Crown Land wind project applications that will require bulldozing wooded areas. How does the real world carbon equation work there? It doesn’t.
Ground mount solar arrays contracts amount to over 10,000 acres. If you want to see what that looks like go to eastern On. between Kingston and Cornwall. Hundres of acres of land cleared of trees, now sitting in piles of stumps and logs can be seen adjacent to the 401. At ~200 tons of CO2/acreswhen you vapourize woodlands like that, solar at 15% capacity factor can never be CO2 positive.
We are doing this so ~9 Liberal friendly transnational corps. can get most of the FIT money scooped from Ontario ratepayers pockets.

R Budd
5 years ago

The new wind developments on Crown Land are likely to be on wooded areas, typically ridge tops.
The solar to this point has been limited to class 4 ag. land, which is often described as “marginal”. Lots of it is workable and productive but it is typically somewhat erodible, has shallow soil depth or lacks drainage. Some of that land had been taken out of cultivation years ago when commodity or cattle prices were low and it reverted back to being wooded.
That land now is certainly more valuable as habitat, carbon storage or ag. land than it is as a place to stick solar panels, but the clever minds in Ontario declare those groundmounts are worth $.28/kwh. So fire up the bulldozers!

Morgan Brown
5 years ago

As usual, your article was spot-on. Now that data from one Ontario 100 MWe solar power plant is being reported by the IESO, I have some hard data on capacity factors. For the period Mar 25 2015 (1st data) to May 5 2015, the CF is 21.6%. The production is “better” than wind in that the generation occurs during the daylight hours (d’oh), so the peak better matches the increased demand.

During the peak hours of 9:00 to 17:00 during the first period (Mar 25 to Ap 30), the average hourly capacity factor ranged from 30 to 64%. I expect these values to increase as our days lengthen (provided we don’t have a cloudy summer). The standard deviation on the hourly CF was 21 to 31% for the same data (e.g. the hourly CF for the 13th hour was 63.0% with a stddev of 29.9%). Thus there remains a lot of variability.

For wind data, I now have 82 power plant years of Ontario industrial wind performance. The average plant CF is 30.82%, with a std deviation of 3.54% on the AVERAGE. I haven’t the time to calculate the actual fleet hourly std deviation, but the number would likely be in the same order (~30%) as the solar values above.