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.
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.