Green energy and the Toronto Heat Island: now is the winter of our disconnect made sweltering summer

Get ready for a wave of springtime electricity disconnections, now that the Ontario government has publicly warned the province’s 71 local electricity distribution companies1 against disconnecting delinquent customers in winter. (The warning was a neat little PR trick, in that it shifted blame for disconnects onto LDCs. But the real blame lies with the government. Its policies put electricity prices into the stratosphere.)

Wintertime disconnections are particularly brutal in small towns and rural areas of the province, where electricity is more a source of heat than it is in urban areas which are served with natural gas.

In many of the areas outside of the major cities, the winter demand peak is bigger than the summer. Algoma Power (prior to 2009 called Great Lakes Power), an LDC serving a very large area2 centred on Sault Ste. Marie that was until recently not served with natural gas, registered a 2015 winter peak demand of nearly 45,000 kilowatts, versus a summer peak of just over 26,000 kW.

Here’s how Algoma Power’s peak profile has looked since 2007, compared with Toronto’s:3
source: Ontario Energy Board, Yearbook of Electricity Distributors 2007-2015

It was the sheer brutality of winter disconnects in poor households that finally got the Ontario government to act on electricity prices last month. There have been simply too many TV news programs showing how dire the situation has become for people who can no longer afford electricity because the massive introduction of green energy caused the price to skyrocket.

Algoma Power customers clearly use electricity for heating, even though they recently gained access to natural gas.

But summertime disconnects are just as brutal.

Cash-strapped ratepayers in Toronto had better hope for a cool spring and summer. As you can see in the chart above, Toronto Hydro’s peak profile is almost the exact opposite of Algoma’s. Toronto’s winter peak was 4.02 million kW in 2015; its summer peak was 4.4 million. In every year since 2007 the summer peak has outstripped the winter peak.

I would suggest that this is because most cooling equipment in Toronto is electric-powered (and most heating equipment is gas-powered). Although gas-fired chillers have been making inroads because of the stark difference in the cost per kilowatt-hour between electrical and gas-fired energy, electricity still dominates cooling, as is suggested in Toronto Hydro’s summer peak line.

Toronto’s winter-versus-summer peaks aren’t just a coincidence. Toronto is a heat island: its ambient temperatures in the summer can be five to fifteen Celsius degrees higher than those of surrounding communities. Think of the literally tens of thousands of cars whizzing through Toronto streets at all hours of the day. Each one is outputting 9 to 45 kilowatts of heat, depending on speed and driver habits.

Think of the dark pavement, dark walls of buildings, dark roofs, the general replacement of vegetation with water-impermeable mineral-based material that is common to most cities. The upshot on warm sunny days is that the sun’s radiation is absorbed into all this man-made infrastructure. In the absence of natural local water-based heat sinks there’s nowhere for that heat to migrate. Combine that with the naturally warm summer air, and this is why Toronto summertime peak demand is higher than that of winter by nearly half a million kilowatts—which is roughly the electrical output of one Pickering nuclear reactor.

Those millions of watts of artificial power that are required for cooling indoor spaces are themselves contributors to the urban heat island effect: air conditioning by definition is extracting heat from inside and throwing it outside. So add that heat to the heat from the sun and to the other anthropogenic sources.

And if air conditioning is gas-fired, then add the heat from the initial combustion of gas to the heat thrown from inside to outside.

You need air conditioning in the summer, and because of the heat island effect. Cities like Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal do especially.

So what is going to happen when Toronto Hydro starts leaning on delinquent cash strapped customers who were spared winter disconnection because of the government bill announced in February? Is it conceivable that delinquent ratepayers’ cash problems could extend into the summer heatwave season? And that there might be a wave of summer disconnects because of the deferral of winter ones?

It absolutely is conceivable.

About 120 people die every year in Toronto because of heat-related illness, according to the Canadian Environmental Health Atlas. It is not a stretch to suggest that most if not all live on a low-income.

If the summer of 2017 is a hot one, as we might reasonably expect it could be given the general increase in the global mean temperature, what will be the impact on low-income people who live in Canada’s biggest and hottest city?

These people’s economic circumstances have been dramatically worsened because electricity was made unaffordable by policies that give huge support to green energy. As I have noted in other posts, green energy as commonly conceived—that is, wind and solar—is enormously expensive because it is enormously inefficient and notoriously unreliable. To overcome its inefficiency and unreliability and get more of it into our grid, the government mandated huge prices for it—those huge prices were the incentive that green entrepreneurs needed before they would enter the business. Huge prices for inefficient electricity were the offer that no rentseeking green entrepreneur could refuse.

The upshot, in the case of rooftop solar panels, is that green energy is essentially a second stream of (ratepayer-guaranteed) income for those who own property. I made exactly that point on The Agenda with Steve Paikin on February 21 (at around 23:30):

Strolling through Ottawa’s affluent Glebe neighbourhood last Sunday, I noticed a roof covered with solar panels.

That’s a transfer of wealth from the overheated poor to the cool rich.

That homeowner will not use the electricity generated by those panels to cool his home this summer. He will buy electricity from the grid, or burn gas, to do that.

The purpose of the electricity from the solar panels is to help him make yet more money.

And that money comes from people who might be disconnected this summer because they can’t pay bills that are too expensive because of solar panels.

  1. That number is now reduced because of the amalgamation of Enersource, Horizon Utilities and PowerStream into a new entity called Alectra.
  2. Algoma Power’s service area is roughly 14,200 square kilometers, the second largest in the province after Hydro One Networks. Though its area is nearly 23 times the size of Toronto Hydro’s, its customer base is less than one sixty-fifth the size of Toronto’s.
  3. source: Ontario Energy Board, Yearbook of Electricity Distributors 2007-2015
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Jim Baerg
6 years ago

Painting all the roofs white to reduce the heat island effect might be better than adding solar panels.

6 years ago

For those wanting to understand Ontario’s energy problems here is an interesting link. This link to an Ontario Ministry of Energy report in 2012 shows an attempt to improve electricity distribution..It includes a map of the Local Distribution Companies (LDC)

6 years ago

This page shows how the Ontario regulators have tried to provide compensation for high energy bills..

Rick Hunter
6 years ago

The 10% discount from the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit was removed in the beginning of 2016. The 8% HST relief at the beginning of 2017 shows the shortsighted memory of the public. Peter stole 10% from Paul last year, but giving back 8% this year makes it charity.

The Fair Hydro plan is also a farce. It’s a guarantee that the blunders made by this administration will be passed on for decades. The only people happy about this plan are the bankers and generators who will enjoy billions more in profits. If you want the real reason why rates are so high, you should start looking into the long term generation contracts that have been awarded to Liberal campaign donors. The best part about these contracts? They don’t even report to the IESO regulatory body.

If that does not make your blood boil yet, I suggest opening a Liberal Lemonade Stand. The business plan involves charging Ontarians $10 for a glass of lemonade, meanwhile, you sell to New Yorkers for $1 a glass. Ratepayers in Ontario forked over 15.3 cents per kW/h at the outlet. How much did New York pay for our exported power? 1.53 cents per kW/h.

6 years ago
Reply to  Rick Hunter

I knew this was one big sinkhole for Ontario, exporting electricity neighbors don’t “need”. At the time I’m writing this we are exporting ~2 GIGAWATTS of electricity to the USA for no reason. How much did we spend on our nuclear refurbishment just to practically give half of it away?

Jim Baerg
6 years ago

BTW at least on my copy of Google Chrome, this website says
“Current concentration of CO2 in the global atmosphere: 0.00 parts per million” rather than whatever the real current concentration is.

Jim Baerg
6 years ago
Reply to  Jim Baerg

I see you fixed that. Thanks