Should agriculturally fertile land be used to grow food? Most people would say yes, especially if that land is located where the growing season is short. The entire locavore movement is based on utilizing as much local space as possible for growing food. Well, Toronto Ontario is 43.6° north of the equator. This means that any agriculturally fertile land in or near it definitely has a short growing season: there is a time of the year in Toronto, called winter, when there is simply not enough solar energy reaching the area to help plants in outdoor soil to keep from freezing let alone photosynthesize. So those who own agriculturally fertile land in or near Toronto must take full advantage of that time of the year, called summer, when there is enough of that solar energy.
The Toronto Star yesterday reported on a land-use spat on the Oak Ridges Moraine northeast of Toronto, where entrepreneurs want to occupy roughly half a square kilometer of prime agricultural land on the moraine to make way for a 10-megawatt solar panel farm. The Star piece refers to this as a “large-scale infrastructure project” even though the farm could be expected to produce less than 15 million kilowatt-hours of electricity over an entire year.
(To get this figure yourself, multiply 10 megawatts by 8,760—the number of hours in a year—then multiply that product by 17 percent, which is the capacity factor the Ontario Power Authority gives for solar farms near Toronto. Then multiply by 1,000 to convert megawatt-hours to kilowatt-hours.)
Fifteen million kilowatt-hours per year does not make this solar farm a “large-scale infrastructure project,” at least in the electric power generation sector. In the electric power generation sector, that is a very small amount of power, which makes this a very small-scale infrastructure project. For comparison, it took just four hours for Ontario’s fleet of hydropower generators to produce 15 million kWh between midnight and four a.m. this morning. And it took the provincial nuclear fleet not even two hours to generate 15 million kWh. See Table 2 in the left-hand sidebar.
This is why the feed in tariff rate promised to owners of solar power installations is so ridiculously high: 44.3 cents per kWh. With such a terrible capacity factor—17 percent!—there is no way those owners could prevent massive financial losses, let alone make a profit, if they were to get a rate anything less than that. This begs the question of why Ontarians on fixed incomes, typically poor seniors and single mothers, are being forced, through their electricity bills, to finance the lifestyles of solar “entrepreneurs.” But that’s a separate issue.
However, I take the Star’s point: since the proposed 10-MW farm would occupy more than half a square kilometer, it would be a fairly big installation. Consider that the largest Wal-Mart Supercenter occupies a bit more than one-fifth of a square kilometer. The proposed solar farm would be more than twice as big.
Which is likely why the proposal is being opposed by the farmers on the Oak Ridges Moraine who would be the solar farm’s neighbors. The Star piece quotes one of these prospective neighbors as saying “[this is] an inventory of land that’s disappearing in this country,”
He is absolutely right. Why should half a square kilometer of prime, and rare, agricultural land be used to generate a tiny amount of electricity that we could easily get from another plant, at a far better price?
If recent history is any guide, the solar opponents on the moraine will receive zero support from the mainstream environmental lobby. The “greens” sold out the actual environment when they decided to try to help the natural gas industry expand its market in Ontario. They want Ontario’s nuclear generators, which an hour ago were producing 11,164 MW of electricity (selling for less than 6 cents per kWh—which is not even one-seventh the rate for groundmounted solar), with natural gas-fired ones. Item 1 in the right-hand sidebar of this blog gives an idea of how that would shake out pollution-wise: if the alleged greens had their way, Ontario’s power generation sector would have dumped 7,365 tons of pollution into the air in that hour. As it was, only 1,225 tons were dumped; most of them from gas-fired plants.
The greens sold out the Holland Marsh, another area of prime agricultural land near Toronto, a few years ago when they worked to locate a gas-fired peaker plant on it: this was over the objections of local growers whom the greens in Ontario Municipal Board hearings shouted down and called NIMBYs.
What is really disappointing is that the Toronto locavore movement has been silent on this issue. You would think an issue like this would be a rallying call for them.
I wish the solar opponents on the Oak Ridges Moraine good luck. They are going to need it, because they are pretty much on their own.