Dirty Little Secret – Amy Tang’s “Omission”

Owen Sound Sun Times
The front-page story headlined “Turbines part of green plan” (Sun Times, Oct.10/09), is a perfect example of how our provincial government is misleading the public with regard to the issue of wind turbines.

Amy Tang, identified as the spokesperson for Energy Minister George Smitherman, is quoted as saying “We have to remember why we entered into renewable energy in the first place, which was our commitment to get off coal.”

Unfortunately she neglected to explain just how wind turbines get us off coal. I suspect her omission was deliberate, because in reality there is no practical way that wind turbines can replace coal fired thermal units.

Coal fired thermal generating stations in Ontario are typically used during the hours when the demand for electricity is greatest. They are indeed the dirtiest form of generation we have in this province, but they are extremely reliable. Wind turbines on the other hand, are notoriously unreliable. They have capacity factors that are typically in the high 20% range. That means that any wind units on the provincial grid will require some other unit backing them up (replacing their output) over 70% of the time. The dirty little secret hidden in the program that is encouraging wind power development in Ontario is the fact that we are really replacing the coal fired plants with generating stations that are powered by natural gas!

The new gas powered plants are being called “peaker” plants by industry proponents and government supporters. The name is presumably an attempt to lead people to believe that the plants will not be used much: just for peaking purposes. Of course, the coal burning plants that are being phased out are also peaking plants. So, in reality we are replacing dirty coal burning plants with slightly less dirty natural gas powered plants. Our provincial government has the nerve to call this a “green plan”. What is really sad is how successful they have been to date in selling this myth! Even normally skeptical media have rolled over and bought the story lock, stock and barrel.

What is really interesting is the fact that people living in the vicinity of the proposed gas powered plants are about as upset about those plans as people in Grey-Bruce are about wind turbines! Equally fascinating is the reaction from the Government and the gas power proponents: the opposition is all NIMBY!

The people in this area who are opposed to wind turbines would be wise to link up with the folks in the areas near the proposed gas powered plants (Oakville/Mississauga, Holland Marsh, etc.) and collectively demand that the province deal with these issues in an open and honest manner. Wind turbines and gas powered generating plants are inextricably linked, but the Government and the industry proponents are doing their best to obfuscate, divide and conquer.

We should be demanding that our provincial politicians start to do some real work aimed at transforming our power generation and distribution system. Things like promoting a national power grid that could reduce the need for Ontario peaking capability while taking advantage of combined interprovincial peaking resources. The daily peak in electricity demand is for the most part quite predictable and it flows across the country east to west according to time zone. Canadian utilities have strong north-south power interconnections, but not much in the way of east-west interconnections. Why? And more importantly, what are the federal and provincial governments doing about changing that reality?

Why is the Province of Ontario not strongly promoting the use of electricity in the transportation sector? We should be actively and aggressively moving to the electrification of all rail lines in this country. One of the ways we can reduce the need for peaking capacity is to level out the demand. Earlier attempts to level load through advertising failed miserably, but the conditions have changed quite a bit since then. The environment and ratepayers would both benefit from the electrification of railways. Unlike electric cars, which our Premier does seem to have embraced, electric rail transport is already a mature technology, and we already have the capability to build the trains here in Ontario. Why aren’t we doing it? Wouldn’t those be “green jobs”?

I think I can understand the appeal that wind turbines have for many people: they use a resource that is “free”; they have a majestic almost ethereal appearance (I realize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but many people actually DO like the look of the turbines!); they are promoted as being environmentally friendly; and most people mistakenly believe that “electricity is electricity”, so why not make it with wind!

Unfortunately, the real world has a habit of sometimes restricting our choices.

Not even the most optimistic politician can wish away the realities of the day-to-day operation of the provincial power generation/distribution system.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that we are wasting money on wind power in this province.

How many of us would buy a new “green power” car if we knew up front that it would be quite a bit more expensive than what we have now and it could only be used less than 30% of the time? To make matters worse, there is absolutely no guarantee that this new “green” car could ever finish any trip, and we will need another “regular” polluting car to take over when the “green” car can’t run. Now also imagine that the provincial government passes a law that requires some of us to buy these new “green power” cars, whether we want them or not, even though some people have good reason to believe that the new cars are affecting their health. Does this new “green power” car really sound like it’s a good idea for Ontario?

Dave Stevens
Port Elgin, Ontario

1 thought on “Dirty Little Secret – Amy Tang’s “Omission”

  1. DIRTY COAL ???? We have been cleaning it up year after year,and,it is getting to be cleaner than natural gas.A little research goes a long way to know what is really happening to produce electricity.

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