Negligible and unreliable: that’s how you could describe the contribution of wind to Ontario’s power supply. Wind turbines in this province, which collectively have 870 megawatts of capacity, are currently producing only 135 MW of actual electricity. That’s a capacity factor of less than 16 percent—nothing you’d want to hang an industrial strategy on. But wind punches way above its weight when it comes to public opinion. Any mainstream environmentalist will tell you, with a completely straight face, that wind will power Ontario’s future. It is useless to argue against this, even with the facts on your side. So let’s use wind’s public opinion “gravity” to accomplish something useful.
Hydro One, Ontario’s power transmission company, just got preliminary approval to build a 180-kilometre high voltage transmission line from the Bruce Peninsula to Milton. Though the company’s application to the provincial regulator talks about 1,700 MW of wind capacity being installed on the peninsula, the capacity factor I mentioned above indicates we can expect only a small fraction of actual energy coming from those generators at any given time. The bulk of the energy will come, of course, from the Bruce nuclear plant.
And there are plans to expand nuclear capacity on the Bruce. This is why a number of groups, most environmental, have so vigorously opposed the transmission line. Ontario’s official plan is to hold the line on nuclear capacity at 14,000 megawatts. The new project at the Darlington nuclear plant could add up to 3,500 MW; that would put Ontario’s nuclear capacity at 14,530 MW. Upgrades or new build at Bruce would push nuclear capacity way over that.
The same environmental groups would support the line if it were only for the 1,700 MW of new wind in Bruce County. This proves they understand capacity factors.
Regardless, pro-nuclear people (I am one of them) might see some potential to shape the public debate. The Toronto Star’s report on the approval of the transmission line said the purpose of the line was to put “wind and nuclear power from Bruce County” into the provincial grid. There is nothing incorrect about that statement. Use wind’s gravity, and nuclear’s momentum, to slingshot the project to approval.
But the project is far from approved. The next step is an environmental assessment. After that comes the hard part. Hydro One has to negotiate the right of way with hundreds of landowners along the proposed route. These include Aboriginal groups, two of which, the Saugeen Ojibway Nations (SON) and the Métis Nation of Ontario, took exception to the regulator’s draft Aboriginal Consultation Policy. (The regulator scrapped the draft; back to the drawing board.)
Moreover, these groups, particularly SON, are not impressed by the claims about wind. Negotiators will have to reach agreement with the Aboriginal groups through unprecedented consultation. Hydro One will have to negotiate carefully, and with great respect. This is not the 1900s.