Green policies offer fascinating case study in the difference between real PR and fake PR

steve_aplin50Canadian Energy Issues  by Steve Aplin

All of which means that when the greens call for wind, they are really calling for natural gas. When Ontarians read newspaper headlines in 2015 saying that provincial GHGs are as bad as they ever were, they will wonder how they were so badly fooled by those who said wind is the answer to climate change.

If you promise something, you should deliver it. And sooner rather than later—especially if you engage in questionable PR tactics to win your case. I have argued in favour of governments financing both wind generation and nuclear generation (see article), but not because both are equally capable of providing zero-carbon electricity. They are plainly not equal: nuclear provides large-scale, cheap, on-demand power; wind provides small-scale, expensive, erratic power. Comparing the two is like comparing a top-level NHL hockey player to a mosquito-level beginner.

Now I love mosquito hockey. I used to play at that level myself, and there was nothing more important for me as a player than being cheered on by my family and friends. But even in my wildest pre-teen megalomaniac fantasies I never thought I should get the same paycheck as, say, Wayne Gretzky.

And yet the so-called green lobby, which pretends to offer solid energy policy advice, advocates something along these lines for the wind power industry. Though wind currently contributes only a minuscule amount of highly unreliable electricity to the Ontario grid—as I write this, Ontario wind generators are contributing one-tenth the electricity for which they are rated—wind companies are being paid twice the going rate for electricity.

Is this worth it? The greens insist wind is an essential component of any climate change strategy, and that the pricey feed-in tariff is necessary in order to get the industry to the point where it is contributing significant amounts.

This is where public relations in the service of a good cause just breaks down. Wind can never contribute baseload (i.e., on-demand) power, no matter how many thousands of gigantic wind turbines there are. This means there must be massive amounts of backup power that are instantly available when the wind stops blowing. And that means natural gas. And for every kilowatt-hour it generates, natural gas emits 550 grams of carbon dioxide, which is a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG).

All of which means that when the greens call for wind, they are really calling for natural gas. When Ontarians read newspaper headlines in 2015 saying that provincial GHGs are as bad as they ever were, they will wonder how they were so badly fooled by those who said wind is the answer to climate change.

That’s the difference between responsible and irresponsible PR. Nuclear can and will deliver the goods, wind can’t and won’t. So when nuclear advocates call for a climate change solution that includes wind, they are playing a responsible PR game. Anti-nuclear greens who call for wind are just not telling the truth.

Canadian Energy Issues © 2009, by Steve Aplin. Mr. Aplin is Vice President of Energy and Environment at The HDP Group, an Ottawa-based management consultancy. He is an expert on the implications of environmental policy for the energy sector. The views represented in these posts are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of The HDP Group Inc. Mr. Aplin also publishes a new power production and emission tracking website, Electric Power Statistics. You can contact him at 1+(613) 567-5300.

12 thoughts on “Green policies offer fascinating case study in the difference between real PR and fake PR

  1. One of the benefits of steering people toward wind, instead of nuclear, is that it provides a smaller base load, so there is less temptation for a society to overconsume. Should we ever go to war and need lots of power for industry, we’re pretty much screwed already anyway because we’ve shipped most of that sort of thing overseas. Otherwise, there’s no real “need” for the power we’re eating up, it’s used a lot for entertainment, or luxury travel.

  2. Well there you go, because their neighbours aren’t following the trend of sustainability, then their efforts to be more efficient aren’t going so well. You can’t be tempted by what doesn’t exist.

  3. This article is only half there. It assumes atmospheric carbon dioxide drives climate warming, when in fact atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have followed any climate warming trend we have had so far. The climate warming argument to justify “green” work should be avoided. If the discussion is on providing base load for energy use, the article is right on. Wind cannot and never will provide base load no matter how many wind turbines are built. Wind has no specific pattern, arrangement or predictable outcome, no matter how many predictive instruments are put on the landscape. Even at higher latitudes. Spreading out the wind turbines in the hopes of smoothing output just puts more turbines on the landscape. No extra base load can be expected. Is nuclear the answer? It depends on what is needed. If there is no expectation of electricity being available 24-7 then the answer would be no. If having electricity 24-7 is expected there is no other logical answer then nuclear.

  4. “They are now having to invest in 26 new coal plants to provide backup for all this pinwheels. ”
    New, or replacing existing infrastructure?

    Relying on wind will have a gradual cultural effect that is positive, and trends toward sustainability, even if it doesn’t end up being the vehicle that gets us there.

    “If having electricity 24-7 is expected there is no other logical answer then nuclear.”

    No, that’s not logical, because there is not an unlimited supply of fissionable material well into the future. If it won’t work 4 generations from now, why call it sustainable? It’s pure marketing spin. The only way to get sustainable is to use sustainable sources of power, and change how people think about electricity use. The abundance of cheap electricity and fuel has led to the acceptance of Hummers and 50MPG hybrids as acceptable. Neither are.

  5. Isn’t strange that hourly production figures are being reported when in fact industrial wind production can vary between 0 to close to capacity within the hour? How do they determined what to report?

  6. Is there a realistic way for them to advertise an actual annual average without running it for a year? Do coal and nuclear always live up to their advertised MW production levels, I don’t know?

  7. The truth may not build windmills though 😉 Which is the point of this, isn’t it? Well, the truth doesn’t build nuclear reactors too well, too. The truth isn’t pretty whichever of the three you look at. What do you think about solar power towers? You seem to have something against mother nature providing an energy source…

  8. Saskboy: Sorry, missed your comment on Aug 31 with regards to the sustainability of nuclear. Please note that I never said nuclear was sustainable but I will add that industrial wind turbines are not perpetual motion machines. Turning the kinetic energy of wind into electricity at the industrial level is not sustainable. Capturing the kinetic energy requires mechanical technology that has a need for an unsustainable amount of effort to improve and maintain. Expansion of our grid will require more reliable electricity to maintain as each additional km of grid must have a reliable electricity source to provide stability as well as supply a source of electricity to the industrial turbines so they can function. If industrial wind turbines do not have a reliable source of electricity they do not function. Industrial wind developments create a demand for more reliable electricity sources so are only practical in creating the illusion of providing some meaningful electricity to our system.

  9. It should be noted that CO2 emissions for natural gas generation used to backup wind are only part of the problem. Leakage of gas during transportation and storage should also be included. Methane is a much more powerful GHG than CO2.

  10. It became mandatory June 2008 for landfills to collect the methane gas, but our gov’t has not allowed them to connect the burners to the grid. This would provide stable count on energy 24/7 And the gov’t has said they will only pay them 10.5 cents a KW Energy going to waste. The problem being the liberals are wind supporters only

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