October 10, 2015
Wind Power: a source not available when needed is of little value.
Sarnia Observer, October 10, 2015
Regarding the letter “Wind power among the lowest for emissions” (Sarnia Observer, Oct. 6 [Editor’s note: by Gary Zavitz of CanWEA-sponsored Friends of Wind]), the author repeats a number of misconceptions about wind turbines.
The author’s assertions that a doubling of C02 emissions from 2016 – 2032 are “spurious accusations” and are based on “one weekend’s extreme imbalance of supply and demand” are incorrect.
Based on an hour-by-hour analysis of the generation and demand in 2011, the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) predicted that the displacement of nuclear by wind, solar and natural gas would dramatically increase C02 emissions. In 2012, the OSPE requested that the Ministry of Energy undertake an independent analysis to confirm their findings. The doubling of emissions from Ontario’s electricity sector from 2016 to 2032 was the finding by the Ministry of Energy and published as an appendix in their December 2013 Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP).
Regarding the World Nuclear Association assertion that wind and hydro have the lowest green-house gas emissions:
The WNA data is correct but taken out of context by the author who has ignored the main point in my earlier letter; wind turbines are not operated in isolation and must be evaluated as part of our electrical grid. Because wind is not dependable, it requires a backup source from natural gas with its carbon emissions. Therefore wind with natural gas backup, given preferential access to the grid, has a much greater carbon footprint when it displaces nuclear or hydro for base load demand.
The author’s assertions that wind is “predictable and functions effectively as a base load source of power” and that wind is a “distributed” source that doesn’t act as a “single 900 MW” wind turbine are incorrect.
According to data from Natural Resources Canada, wind occurs in large wind fronts that typically cross Ontario within two-hour windows. When there is lots of wind, it is everywhere in Ontario, when there is no wind, there is none anywhere in Ontario. This effectively means Ontario’s entire wind fleet of distributed wind turbines can be considered to be one single large wind turbine of 7,500 MW capacity (by 2022). In 2011 when OSPE did its analysis, wind production across the entire wind fleet dropped below 10 per cent design capacity 20 times that year for more than 24 hours. On one occasion wind generation dropped below 10 per cent of its design capacity for more than 72 hours. Typically on the hottest summer days, when demand peaks, wind contributes less than 15 per cent of its design capacity.
The Independent Electricity System Operator’s (IESO) recent 18-month outlook, published in September 2015, confirms the OSPE analysis. The IESO estimates that the installed wind capacity of 3209 MW, (as of Aug. 14, 2015), will produce only 404 MW during peak periods. So, during the next 18 months, about 12.6 per cent of the installed wind capacity will be available during peak load periods.
Because wind is not dependable, it is not an effective base load source of power, it is a “displacement energy source” – it displaces the backup source, typically natural gas, hydroelectric and flexible nuclear capacity. Its greatest value, in terms of C02 reduction, would occur if it displaced coal. When Ontario got rid of coal generators, it also got rid of the best reason to deploy wind turbines.
The author’s assertion that energy storage systems “are developing quickly and continue to reduce the issue of intermittency” is premature. Storage costs are dropping but are still far too prohibitive to be deployed at grid scale.
The author’s assertion that for wind-generated electricity “the costs are what you see and what you pay for is the power generated” is simply not true. For example eight per cent of wind generation (0.4 TWh), was curtailed (shut off) in 2014. The costs of curtailment include: payment to the wind developers to not produce electricity that is not needed; plus costs to curtail nuclear and spill hydro on windy days when demand was low and wind production received preferential access to the grid. All of these additional costs for wind were included in the global adjustment charge rather than in their contract per kWh rate. Transparent? Hardly.
The author’s assertion that “no one has any reliable idea what it will cost to refurbish or dismantle them (nuclear reactors)” is incorrect. In Canada, we have completely refurbished five nuclear units at three stations (Pickering, Pt. Lepreau and Bruce) for a 20 to 30-year life extension and six units at two stations (Pickering and Bruce) for a partial life extension. Those costs are known exactly. Also, there have been several nuclear facilities decommissioned and dismantled in other parts of the world and have provided data that can be used to estimate a complete decommissioning of a large nuclear unit here in Canada.
The author also states: “Maybe nuclear reactors will be more flexible in the future, able to deliver electricity when needed and the price of the electricity they generate will be reasonably close to wind.”
The Bruce nuclear reactors already have flexible capacity; in the 12 months ending on Sept. 30, 2015, the reactors were de-rated, nominally 300 MW each time, a total of 563 times, to give wind turbines their preferential access to the grid.
To imply that nuclear-sourced electricity has a higher cost than wind sources is disingenuous. According to the Ontario Energy Board, the cost of electricity from existing facilities, in cents/kWh, including curtailment for the period May – November 2015 was 5.6 for hydro, 6.6 for nuclear, and 12.5 for wind.
To imply that nuclear does not produce electricity when needed, in the face of wind’s inability to supply any more than 12.6 per cent of its capacity during peak hours, and nuclear’s ability to supply 100 per cent of its capacity whenever needed, is especially disingenuous.
A source that is not available when needed is of little value. A source that is frequently available when not needed, and that increases the overall C02 emissions, is even worse, it’s a liability.
I wish to thank Paul Acchione, past president of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, and one of the key authors of the OSPE report, for providing me with invaluable assistance with interpreting the technical details of the OSPE’s analysis and report.
Editor’s note: The author also wishes to thank Parker Gallant for his assistance in preparing the letter