Winter pays big power dividend: Ontario emissions plummet as snowmelt jacks hydro output

Like many others, I cursed last winter’s massive snow dumps when I was driving, and blessed them when I was skiing. And now, with most of the snow gone, I’m blessing them again. That’s because I’m watching winter’s second big payoff in near real-time, as all that melting snow starts thundering through Ontario’s 60-odd hydro generating facilities.

How has this affected the emissions from the provincial electricity system? Emissions are way down, of course: they would be even if only average amounts of snow had fallen during the 2007–2008 winter. That’s because of the generally moderate temperatures, which have resulted in daily system load in the neighborhood of 420 million kWh, compared with around 480 million in March. This reduced demand translates into daily emissions that have not exceeded 123,000 tonnes in April, as opposed to totals that went above 139,000 tonnes in March. At this rate, April’s emissions will have been roughly 480,000 tonnes less than March’s.

Reduced demand plays a part in that, but so does the increase in hydro’s contribution to the supply mix. As I write this (two p.m. on Tuesday, April 22), hydro was putting nearly 5,900 megawatts into Ontario’s system. Collectively, the provincial non-emitting generation sources (hydro’s 5,900 MW, plus over 8,600 MW from the nuclear plants, and the whopping 50 MW from wind) accounted for over 77 percent of Ontario’s electricity.

This meant power-sector emissions were 3,800 tonnes in the hour between 2 and 3 p.m. today, over 1,000 tonnes less than in the corresponding hour on March 22 (which was a Saturday). Not bad for Earth Day in a heavily industrialized jurisdiction like Ontario.

And here’s something else to think about. If Darlington unit 1, Bruce unit 4, and Pickering units 7 and 8 had been available at two p.m. today, then over 90 percent of Ontario’s power would have come from non-emitting sources. In that scenario, power sector emissions between 2 and 3 p.m. would have been 1,300 tonnes, nearly one-third of the 3,800 they actually were.

Anybody who advocates meeting our Kyoto emission reduction targets and is anti-nuclear should explain how else we could achieve this kind of emission reduction. Anti-nuclear Kyotophiles will surely point to wind power as a big part of the answer. But as I mentioned above, at two p.m. today wind was only putting 50 MW—not even 11 percent of the provincial installed capacity—into the system.

They built all those windmills, and the wind didn’t show up.

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