Why the Ontario government continues to endorse, and make ratepayers cover, bad cheques

The wind industry came to Ontario in a big way. Its proponents waved promises of green energy, the ability to “power [x-many] homes,” and jobs. And Ontario bought in, in a big way. More accurately, our government bought in, by making us ratepayers buy in. We now pay 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour for most wind output.

Why does most wind output fetch 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour? Because it is a low producer of electricity. Here are histograms of hourly wind output, shown by year since 2008. The y axes represent number of hours, the x axes show output in those numbers of hours:

As you can see, all of those histograms have the same basic shape: they all show that in most of the roughly 8,760 hours of each year wind output was in the low range of fleet capacity. This baldly illustrates the salient inherent economic characteristic of wind power: you only very rarely achieve a high output-to-capacity ratio. Most of the time, your equipment is simply under-performing.

Notice how the outlying high, i.e., right-most, output values creep toward roughly 4,400 megawatts as you progress from 2008 to 2016. That is because fleet capacity increased from roughly 890 megawatts in 2008 to over 4,700 MW in 2016.

The chart below gives another layer of insight into the above yearly histograms. It shows the summary statistics of each year’s hourly wind output. It shows that even though capacity was increased in nearly every year, there were times during each of the nine years when the entire wind fleet was essentially producing zero power. (All figures except “count” are megawatts.)

(The stats that underlie this chart are shown at the bottom of this article.)

It’s actually much more dire than that. From the histograms above, you can see that in each year there were literally hundreds of hours during which the entire wind fleet was producing near zero. In 2012, there appear to have been roughly 250 lowest-production hours. That’s the fewest lowest-production hours among the nine years shown.

Well, 250 hours is more than ten days.

Is nine years enough evidence to prove that no amount of installed wind can can shelter us from the likelihood that there will be literally days during the year in which there is essentially no power coming out of the entire fleet?

Granted, these hundreds of hours of near-zero output are scattered through the year and not necessarily clumped together in periods spanning days. All that does is increase the importance of the other generators on the grid that can provide output. And increase the wear and tear on them, due to the mechanical stress from the torque required to throttle the revolutions per minute of a spinning piece of heavy metal.

At the high end of wind output, a glance at the histograms tells you that the hours of high wind output are sparse. The summary stats tell just how sparse. For example, in half of the hours of 2016 (the wind fleet’s highest-production year), the wind fleet produced at an average of 934 megawatts or less. In three-quarters of the hours (that’s over 6,500 hours) it produced at 1,736 MW or less—i.e., 37 percent of fleet capacity at most.

If you own a wind farm, you can expect this kind of production no matter how many more turbines you add to your fleet.

This means that if you are going to make a profit selling electricity, then you have to sell at a higher unit price than other companies whose generators achieve better output-to-capacity ratios through the year.

i.e., at a price of, say, 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

This is why we pay that price for most wind generation. Wind generators need a rate that high or else they cannot be assured of making a profit.

The Ontario premier published an op-ed in the Toronto Star this week, in which she explained the high costs of Ontario electricity in part this way:

We … built thousands of kilometres of new transmission lines and introduced renewable energy.

That has it backwards. She should have said “we introduced renewable energy, which necessitated building thousands of kilometers of transmission lines.”

From the charts above, it is obvious that possibly thousands of kilometers of new transmission lines were built so that we can bring into the grid a source that is a chronic and inherent under-performer.

The charts in this article baldly illustrate the salient inherent economic characteristic of wind power: you only very rarely achieve a high output-to-capacity ratio. Most of the time, your equipment is simply under-performing.

Put another way, thousands of kilometers of transmission lines were bought and paid for to hard-wire an energy source that cannot power society. I must emphasize: they are hard-wired to this source. Because the source to which they are hard-wired is an inherent and chronic and proven under-performer, those wires were quite literally a waste of money.

What did it cost to buy and build them?

At the top of this article I mentioned that the wind industry moved into Ontario with promises of powering Ontario homes. The industry makes promises like that everywhere it goes. The claim that Rick Maltese cites in his comment on my article “Candlepower for freezing Alberta” is a perfect example.

You can see from the charts above that wind is simply not capable of living up to its promise. Those charts prove that the brownouts and blackouts the premier refers to in her TorStar op-ed would be commonplace if we were to rely on wind to provide the bulk of our electricity.

The wind industry made a false promise to Ontario. In effect, it wrote us a bad cheque.

The premier, by failing to point up her government’s enthusiastic and massive support of a chronically and inherently low-performing energy source like wind, has essentially endorsed that bad cheque.

And we ratepayers cover it with good money, every time we pay our electricity bill.

Why does the Ontario government continue to support this industry?

And why are academia and most of the mainstream media so homogeneously favourable to it?

I will take this up in my next article. In the mean time, I refer once again to Parker Gallant’s 2012 article on Scott Luft’s Cold Air Currents.

Hourly wind output, summary statistics by year: all figures except “count” are megawatts

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
count 8783 8736 8760 8760 8784 8760 8742 8760 8783
mean 182 293 358 497 592 667 871 1121 1183
std 146 236 286 408 454 491 667 826 888
min 0 1 0 1 4 3 7 4 24
25% 66 102 129 170 216 260 298 420 467
50% 145 225 276 361 448 543 682 930 934
75% 264 437 523 740 890 984 1391 1654 1736
max 809 1113 1321 1818 1837 2222 3035 3709 4355
capacity 997 1220 1590 1943 1943 2422 3448 4005 4712

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6 years ago

Very interesting way of analyzing wind data. In effect it’s empirical proof (not that any is needed) that wind production is a classic stochastic process.

I’m not certain what the bottom graph and the data on which it’s formed represents though. Is the 25% row the power delivered during the hour that happens to be at the 1/4 point of the histogram, the 50% row the power delivered during the hour that happens to be at the 1/2 way point of the histogram? I’m also not certain what to make of the “Mean” and “Std” rows.

In any case I can appreciate why this is all being shown as a line plot since Excel doesn’t allow overlapping bar graphs but putting the # of hours as plot points on the graph just adds confusion it seems to me.

6 years ago

It’s a complete waste. Nothing but a huge subsidy to sell at a loss. It’s about as useful as solar panels covered in snow.

Adding more wind turbines doesn’t fix any problems. 1GW of capacity is just as reliable as 4GW.

6 years ago

Why does the Ontario government continue to support this industry?

And why are academia and most of the mainstream media so homogeneously favourable to it?

You seem to have finally arrived at the crucial questions.

The government could easily declare this folly harmful to the public good and not as advertised, pass legislation to cancel the odious contracts and finally stop progressing from bad to worse. Even as the Liberals (and NDP) embarked on the German “green” energy model it had shown its flaws.

Many of us who fought to save our landscapes, wildlife, communities and economy already found answers in UN Agenda 21 but it will be interesting to see where you found yours.