IESO – Will Ontario’s wind turbine power plants reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

by Donald Jones, P.Eng.

A shorter version of this article appeared in the 2010 September edition of the BULLETIN, the journal of the Canadian Nuclear Society.
Coal-fired power plants in Ontario are to be phased out by 2014 and are being replaced by natural gas-fired power plants. Burning gas still results in large amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Wind turbine power plants are being built in the belief that they will reduce the GHG emissions from the gas-fired plants by reducing the amount of gas burned. Dispatchable coal is being replaced by dispatchable gas and not by non-dispatchable wind. Gas is not supporting wind, wind is interfering with gas, and with nuclear for that matter.
There is some doubt whether the billions of dollars being spent by Ontario’s electricity consumers on Ontario’s wind turbine power plants, on the supporting transmission and so called “smart grid” infrastructure, and on increased maintenance for the gas-fired and nuclear generators on the grid, will result in any appreciable, or even any, reduction in GHG emissions from the electricity generating sector. It is difficult to impossible for the layman to get a handle on this due to the highly complex way the grid is controlled by the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO). If it were possible to frequently shutdown gas-fired power plants every time the wind picked up there might be some obvious GHG reductions but even then shutting down and then re-starting gas-fired units would eat into the amount of the reduction as well as increasing the amount of wear and tear damage to the units. Since the only people who know in detail how the generators on the grid are dispatched to accommodate wind are the people doing this job every day at the IESO they are the only ones who can come up with the answer to the question, “are wind turbine plants really reducing GHG emissions in Ontario and at what cost per tonne CO2 avoided?” This really is the bottom line. It should not be too difficult for them to use computer simulation to compare typical daily load profiles with and without various amounts of wind generation and with various water storage levels and compare emissions as a result of their usual dispatching procedures and knowledge of the technical specifications/operating characteristics of the gas-fired generators. While we wait for this to happen (!) let us look at scenarios that raise doubts about GHG reductions.
Ontario’s grid consists of many and varied generating stations located throughout the province feeding consumers through a network of high voltage transmission lines, transformers, switchgear, and low voltage distribution lines to major consumers including local utilities. Electricity cannot be stored in large amounts so generation and demand has to be kept in balance at all times. If demand exceeds supply all the generators on the grid slow down and the normal grid frequency of 60 Hertz (reversals per second of alternating current) will drop. All electric motors working off the grid would similarly slow down. If supply exceeds demand the frequency will increase. It is the job of the IESO to ensure that these frequency swings keep within very tight tolerances on a seconds to minutes time scale. It does this by dispatching generators (hydro, coal, gas, and even nuclear units as a last resort) on the grid at five minute intervals, not necessarily the same generator, to move power up or down. In the morning the power moves would generally be in an upward direction and in the evening in a downward direction but there can also be small reversals in the general trend. This brings the grid into a rough balance. In order to bring the frequency into its narrow operating range of around 60 Hertz the IESO automatically controls the output of a very small number of selected generators that have the capability to rapidly vary their output over a limited range. These are some hydro units at Niagara Falls and, in the past, some coal-fired units. This seconds to minutes control of frequency is called automatic generation control or AGC. The current AGC regulation service requirement from the IESO is for at least plus or minus 100 megawatts at a ramp rate of 50 megawatts per minute. This amount of AGC may have to be increased as more variable wind generation gets on to the grid. As well as frequency, voltage levels at points on the grid also have to be maintained but this is more complex and will not be discussed.
The hydro generators consist of run-of-the-river stations, like Niagara Falls, that run continuously and stations that depend on water storage, so have limited run times and are more dependent on precipitation. The run-of-the-river units would provide base load and the stored water units would provide intermediate load that looks after the normal daytime load cycle. Base load hydro accounts for about a third of the total installed hydro capacity. The hydro stations are extremely flexible when available and can quickly respond to changes in supply or demand on the grid. However there can be water management restrictions on the operation of the stored water units because of variations in upstream and downstream water levels and other concerns. Coal-fired units are less flexible but, when hot, much more flexible than the combined cycle gas turbine units that are replacing them and both can provide base load and intermediate load. A small amount of base load comes from some inflexible combined heat and power facilities. There is also a very small number (Aside: too small, maybe, in view of the coming huge increase in wind capacity) of simple cycle gas turbine units, much less efficient than combined cycle gas turbines, that can come on line from cold very quickly to help meet peak loads or other eventualities. Although combined cycle gas turbine plants are capable of operating simple cycle, by having the hot gases bypass the heat recovery steam generators, it is not known if the Ontario units have this flexibility. Present nuclear units are less flexible than hydro and gas and prefer to operate base load although they are regarded as dispatchable by the IESO. With low fuel cost and fixed costs that are independent of power level it makes economic sense at the present time to operate nuclear at full power to supply base load. Wind generation depends on the wind and is not dispatchable but is added to the base load supply whether needed or not.
The Ontario grid has an installed capacity of around 35,000 megawatts and in 2009 nuclear provided 55.2 percent of Ontario’s generated electricity, hydro 25.5 percent, gas 10.3 percent, coal 6.6 percent and wind 1.6 percent. Other fuel types (biomass, solar etc) gave 0.8 percent. This shows 80 percent of Ontario’s electricity was supplied by non-GHG emitting nuclear and hydro putting Ontario’s electricity sector amongst the world leaders in the generation of “clean” electricity. Wind generation is expected to drastically increase over the next few years under Ontario’s Green Energy Act. Refurbishment of Darlington and Bruce nuclear units and increasing demand for electricity in the next few years will result in more base load operation of combined cycle gas turbine units. Burning natural gas for base load will be expensive, is wasteful of a non-renewable resource, and is unnecessary. This situation may be alleviated somewhat by construction of a new nuclear station at Darlington.
In the future large amounts of wind (Aside: present wind capacity is around 1,100 megawatts but eventually maybe up to 8,000 megawatts nameplate capacity when transmission links are completed) will have an impact on the grid in both high electricity demand and low demand scenarios. Wind is a preferred supplier under present government rules and must be accepted on to the grid when available. During daily operation when the demand on the grid is high and wind starts coming on to the grid other units on the grid will have to power down to maintain grid balance. The other units could be hydro or gas. If hydro is powered back it would help conserve water behind the dams but would not reduce GHG and other emissions from the gas units. If the combined cycle gas turbines are powered down there still might not be any significant GHG reductions since the units cannot be completely shutdown. Some will be held in their load dispatching range of around 70 to 100 percent of full power to be available for dispatching and some would fall below their load dispatching range, on hot standby, in case the wind dropped. A sudden drop in wind would ramp up the combined cycle gas turbine units that are in their dispatchable range, and bring on the few peaker simple cycle gas turbines, and hydro if available, until the combined cycle gas turbines on hot standby can power up enough to respond to dispatches. Any time gas turbine units operate at part load to accommodate wind the emissions per megawatt hour of generation will increase and there will be wear and tear damage dependent on the depth and frequency of the power changes leading to higher maintenance costs. Also high demand usually coincides with high ambient air temperatures that would reduce output and efficiency of gas turbine units. Output from the stored water hydro units can be restricted during the summer due to drought and, in the future, climate change leading to more gas-fired generation.
The more difficult scenario is the case of oversupply, which tends to occur in the spring and fall, overnight and on weekends. This is called Surplus Baseload Generation (SBG) when the demand is less than a base load supply that cannot readily be reduced because of technical or contractual reasons. There were many cases of SBG in the spring of 2009 caused by the economic downturn and a surplus of hydro power and even with the relatively small amount of wind generation on the grid at that time. SBG is expected to increase in the future, not helped by more self-scheduling wind, until an improving economy and growing population increases demand. As the wind generation comes on to a grid that already has low demand the gas units are powered down, base load hydro minimized and, if possible, exports are maximized but enough flexible hydro and gas must be available to handle grid load changes and be available in case the wind drops. Eventually if the wind generation keeps on increasing, or demand falls, the present approach is for selected nuclear units to be dispatched to make one significant power reduction to another constant power level or to completely shutdown and be replaced by more gas, and hydro if available. In the spring of 2009 nuclear units at Bruce made many such power reductions, using turbine steam bypass which is wasteful of energy and increases thermal emissions, and some shutdowns. When a nuclear unit is shutdown it will not be available again for up to three days because of nuclear physics reasons so if demand increases over this period it would have to be met with gas-fired generation. Shutting down or powering down nuclear units that produce relatively low cost reliable electricity without GHG emissions and replacing this electricity with higher cost energy from gas and wind makes little economic, technical or environmental sense. Shutting down and restarting nuclear units like this results in wear and tear and increased maintenance cost and puts the grid at risk.
For the newer wind turbine power plants under the Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) program, but not those under the earlier Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program, the IESO is offering financial incentives to the wind operators to shutdown their plants during times of SBG. Under this incentive (FIT) wind operators would get paid if they shutdown in response to an IESO request to do so. However this means that wind plant staff would have to be available at very short notice to open breakers at the turbine plant installations so there is no guarantee that the curtailment request would be followed by the wind plant operators. This could pose a real risk to the high voltage grid if there are large injections of wind generation unless Hydro One can selectively isolate the wind plants on instruction from the IESO.
In periods of high demand and in periods of low demand dispatchable and hot standby gas generation will be powered down as far as is prudent for grid reliability as more (FIT) wind generation comes on to the grid and then it is wind that has to be curtailed, not gas. It would be the IESO’s job to cobble together enough gas (combined cycle and simple cycle) and hydro generation to be available if, say, 5,000 megawatts or even 8,000 megawatts of wind decided to quit –  wind has a propensity to fade at the same time over a wide geographical area. If this cannot be done some (FIT) wind would have to be kept off line. It is the timely availability of this gas and hydro generation that will set the limit on wind penetration on the Ontario grid. Hydro generation that depends on precipitation is a valuable operating reserve and will not be wasted to support wind and imports from neighbouring jurisdictions may not be available if they also have a large wind component on their grids. When the wind drops it could take around five hours to get a big combined cycle unit up to full power from a cold start and around two hours from a warm or hot condition. Dispatching combined cycle gas turbine units is more complicated than dispatching coal-fired units due to the various operating configurations of the multiple gas turbines and the steam turbine.  Up to 8,000 megawatts of wind, equivalent to the output from more than eight Darlington size nuclear units, could be potentially coming on to a grid that has a demand that varies seasonally from less than 12,000 to more than 25,000 megawatts. This could happen on the few occasions that wind conditions are optimum across the province and could put the grid at unnecessary risk. Even if wind is shutdown, if a SBG is deep enough nuclear plants would still need to be shutdown, or powered down to a reduced constant power level, with GHG emitting gas-fired plants taking care of dispatchable load following on the grid. For less deep SBG shutting down some wind might prevent nuclear power reductions and reduce wear and tear on these essential units.
As more controversial shale gas gets into the natural gas supply it raises the question of life cycle GHG emissions. Although a combined cycle gas turbine generator produces just over half the carbon dioxide of a similar sized coal-fired generator, taken on a life cycle basis GHG emissions from burning shale gas may approach or equal coal. In this case it would have made economic sense to keep operating the coal-fired stations with low sulphur coal and flue gas clean-up until new nuclear became available and skip this monstrously expensive and risky venture with gas and wind. Even the advantage in GHG emissions from combustion that conventional natural gas has over coal would be reduced if the methane leakage in collection, transmission and distribution were considered. Coal has a dispatchable range of 20 to 100 percent full power compared to around 70 to 100 percent for combined cycle gas, which means more non-GHG emitting nuclear would be shutdown (with consequent wear and tear costs) or powered down to avoid SBG by using gas than by using coal. This would lead to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions even though carbon dioxide emissions from a combined cycle gas turbine plant are just over half the amount from a coal-fired plant for the same output. For gas to provide the same dispatchable power as coal, with both operating at their respective minimum loading points, several times as much gas generation would have to be on line meaning very much more GHG emissions. Under these circumstances coal, rather than gas, would make a better partner for wind.
The availability and cost of conventional and shale gas in the next few years is unknown yet the Ontario government is betting our future on enough affordable gas being available to power our electricity generators, heat our homes, supply our petrochemical industry, supply our industrial sector, meet our potential transportation needs, and meet the demands of all other north American users. Shale gas, and imported liquid natural gas, will only replace the declining reserves of gas from north America’s conventional sources, and at higher cost and with higher life cycle GHG emissions.
The only sure way to reduce GHG emissions to near zero is to have a future Ontario grid with an energy mix of just hydro and nuclear. Unless sufficient and suitable demand response loads (e.g. thermal storage, hydrogen production) become available to enable nuclear to operate base load the new CANDU nuclear plants must be able to vary reactor power, with steam bypass if necessary, to meet daily and weekend changes in demand (Aside: in fact the IESO has stated that Ontario’s future generation supply mix will place an increasing reliability value on the flexibility of generating assets to provide load following capability, operating reserve and AGC – wind meets none of these requirements). It has to be this way eventually and this will provide reliable secure electricity at a reasonable and stable price that will encourage long term investment and jobs in the province. Erratic wind would have no place on this grid since it would cause unnecessary manoeuvring of the nuclear and hydro units.
Using a suitable mix of flexible nuclear and hydro would mean the end of load shifting incentives (time-of-use “smart” metering for home and industry) to bring down peak demand since supply will match demand at all times, day and night, with plenty of clean, pollution free, reasonably priced generation. At present peak demand during the day means running more expensive gas-fired GHG emitting generation. Quebec and Manitoba, whose utilities integrate generation, transmission and distribution, have around 98 percent of their electricity supplied by low cost, flexible, clean hydro day and night and do not have or need “smart” time-of-use metering. Ontario could do the same with nuclear/hydro. The only restriction to a clean nuclear/hydro grid could be the lack of sufficient transmission capacity into some high demand load centres, that needs to be fixed, which is evident from the building of neighbourhood gas-fired power plants. This lack of sufficient transmission into these load centres means that not all of the thousands of megawatts of wind that is to be installed will get to where it is needed anyway, which does not help GHG reduction.
France has been producing 80 percent of its electricity from its flexible nuclear fleet for many years with the balance from hydro and fossil fuels. France has 58 pressurized water reactor units on line so the national grid controller can select units that have been recently refueled so have the flexibility to provide dispatchable load following, load cycling, and AGC. There need not be a shortage of electricity anywhere, especially in Ontario. It can be produced reliably in abundance by nuclear energy at reasonable cost and can meet our needs for thousands of years.
Now the people at the IESO can see why at least some of us are confused about the need for wind, and gas for that matter. Is Ontario making a huge mistake?
Donald Jones, P.Eng.
Retired nuclear industry engineer

37 thoughts on “IESO – Will Ontario’s wind turbine power plants reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

  1. So the wind companies are getting payed upwards of 19c/kw, to provide electricity. AND THEN GETTING FINANCIAL INCENTIVES TO SHUT DOWN!!!!! No wonder it’s bringing out the crooks? Where do I get a wind company???! ( JOKE!)

  2. Don

    Thank you for the time invested in this article. By asking, “Is Ontario making a huge mistake” is giving the current Liberal government the benefit of the doubt. A mistake is unintentional and corrected when shown the correct course of action. DMcG and co. are intentionally ignoring all the science and reason for their own political gain. This is a misuse of the public trust they assumed when taking office and there should be a class-action suit filed against this provincial cabinet by the people of Ontario. There are enough experts in the field of energy to begin to collect all the facts and figures required to initiate such action.

  3. If GHG emission reductions could be shown related to industrial wind developments, in real values, not theoretical values, it would have been done by now. Why are the wind industries and the government only using their fudged figures? Why not use the real values? Obvious answer: The real values would show that industrial wind turbines do not provide any relief to GHG emissions. Industrial wind and our government know this fact, which is not supportive of their direction so effort is made to suppress the data.

  4. If only we were able to have you attend and speak and ask questions at all the required community meetings that are held by the wind companies. Unfortunately it wouldn’t hinder the progress of these sleaze-ball companies but it certainly would be great to hear you talk to these crooks. Thank you very much for your excellent article. I hope you try to get this information out there so as many people as possible in Ontario can read this information. If you do attend a meeting though remember to wear a name tag and smile nicely for the cameras and don’t irritate the armed guards. We wouldn’t want you to be mistaken for a troublemaker rather than a highly educated and experienced P.Engineer who knows exactly what he is talking about. When is all of this madness going to end?

  5. Great article! Hope Carol Mitchell reads it, although I have a sneaking suspicion that she is fully aware of how inefficient wind energy is. As James Delingpole said, “Alternative energy is an alternative to energy.”

  6. “Even though a gas-fired generator produces just over half the carbon dioxide of a similar sized coal-fired generator, taken on a life cycle basis GHG emissions from burning shale gas may approach or equal coal. In this case it would have made economic sense to keep operating the coal-fired stations with low sulphur coal and flue gas clean-up until new nuclear became available and skip this monstrously expensive and risky venture with gas and wind”.

    Not quite what Carol Mitchell and Liberals would have us believe in their talking points. Seems that coal may not be the bogeyman they make out.

  7. I applaud Mr. Jones for his efforts, but this we already knew – certainly Jan Carr knows it, but so would Brynne Purchase at QIEEP – but his manager there is giving nutty quotes out illustrating a shocking ignorance.
    The facts seem to point to a likelihood that wind has never been anything but a smokescreen to allow natural gas to replace nuclear .

    The system clearly has no need of any capacity that can’t respond to demand, and yet 2 units at Bruce come back late next year, and wind doubles again during the wait.
    SBG, noted in the column, is tracked daily now –
    I think the Liberal policy is, first and foremost, geared at eliminating nuclear generation.

  8. It is more than evident that all the politicians and Wind Officials and Investors who are involved in this massive SCAM are lying their a$$e$ off trying to prolong their push to install these useless machines so they can dip into the Landowners Pockets for over 20 years before the populace rises up and DEMANDS this Folly to stop!

    Ask Carol Mitchell anything you want.she won’t answer…..ask any member of Parliament for help and intervention, they won’t!

    This is a Government way out if control and totally being driven by Industrial Interests!

    This is bordering on the “criminal”!!!

  9. Excellent article, Thank you. One other note regarding natural gas. I would recommend everybody see the recently released movie GASLAND (see the trailers online) by Josh Fox and you will be shocked. The ind industry tactics are the same, get in quick, get out quick, use the courts to silence any opposition and payoff those left standing with silence clauses. Quite appalling. To boot, natural gas prices are determined in New York via commodity traders and although now at record lows you can be sure the cycle will return to record high gas prices as all markets are cyclical. Then what? No wind, fire up the gas plants, and another surcharge will be added to your bill. Every bloody politician will say” we aren’t responsible because we don’t determine the price of natural gas”

  10. To Scott and all……………I also saw Gasland and if you think Wind is hurting people, Fracturing Shale for Gas is a monster!

    The interesting part of this Documentary is at the end for the acknowledgements…………at least 4 to 5 minutes of the movie shows all the Wind Turbines in each state that has these sour gas wells blowing in the wind…………..methinks it could be a sequel to Gasland showing how not only gas wells have destroyed Farmlands but they are completing the holocaust with planting Wind Turbines to make it “Appear” that this is all GREEN!

    North America is being systematically destroyed by a very evil handful of individuals and nobody is doing anything to stop them!

    There MUST be few individuals out there that can afford two nights a month to occupy a seat on their Council and bring some order and fairness back to our land..isn’t there?……………cut off date for signing your candidacy papers is September 10th!!!!!!

    PLUS……you get paid to do it!

  11. The rate increases now underway will ensure that power demand continues falling for a good long time.

    Simple cycle gas units have a much wider range of power output, albeit at a cost to their fuel efficiency, as compared to the combined cycle units that are the focus of this analysis. It speaks to the competence of the governors of Ontario’s power system that almost all of McGuinty’s new gas capacity is combined cycle.

    Adding to, or even sustaining, Ontario’s nuclear capacity is getting more difficult, particularly with the ongoing collapse of AECL.

    Perhaps Ontario’s next government can entertain a rational discussion about keeping some of our coal capacity, particularly the scrubbed units.

  12. Tom Adams

    Nobody seems to have mentioned biomass generation. In Lockerbie Scotland they have a 43 mw facility which employs 325 people directly and indirectly. We certainly have the fuel (wood) and on the surface meets or exceeds coal in terms of being “GREEN” Certainly thereis ample room for these in Ontario without too much fuss.

  13. David, if you actually read my article, you’ll see that I’ve clearly stated that electricity demand was increasing in those years, and yet Colorado and Texas were able to achieve emissions reductions benefits despite that because of the addition of wind energy. While admittedly the power system is a complex entity affected by many factors, if you can parse the data and find another explanation for that emissions decrease, and for why the laws of physics that I laid out in my article don’t hold, be my guest. Also, I’m not sure how the Colorado and Texas data is not empirical. Finally, do you really think that all of these studies by the U.S. government and by independent grid operators are part of some vast conspiracy, in concert with the people who made up the laws of physics? Because that’s the only way that the worldview you are espousing would seem to make any sense.

    Michael Goggin,

  14. It doesn’t take a whole lot of looking at the US EIA power production by state by technology data to see that about 80% of the reduction in fossil emissions in the state’s power system in 2008 over 2007 appears to have been caused by an increase in wind production. An increase in hydro-electric generation and a decrease in power generated in the state played secondary roles. Total retail sales in the state increased by about 1.5%.


    Beginning: “In 2008, electricity generation and sales were adversely affected by the weakening economy. Annual net electric power generation decreased for the first time since 2001, dropping 0.9 percent ”
    Before we even get out of the introduction we have:
    “Estimated U.S. electric power plant carbon dioxide emissions fell 2.5 percent from 2007 to 2008, from 2,540 million metric tons to 2,477 million metric tons, largely due to decreased fuel consumption. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions fell 13.4 percent, from 9.0 to 7.8 million metric tons, between 2007 and 2008. This amounts to the largest year-over-year decline since 1995. The large reductions in SO2 in 2008 result in part from a decline in fuel consumption but mostly from the installation of emissions reduction equipment in response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Interstate Rule (see Emissions section). 2008 data also show significant reductions to emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which dropped 8.8 percent, from 3.7 to 3.3 million metric tons. Since 1997, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions declined by 41.9 percent and 48.8 percent, respectively.”

    Now look at the title of the site ONTARIO. OVer 80% of the supply is GHG free nuclear and hydro – about 1/2 the hydro being run-of-the-river. Your assumption that wind is displacing fossils is ridiculous here (especially as the natural gas industry co-funds most of the lobbyist for wind/gas to replace nuclear) … and the studies regarding standby, peaking, etc. far more persuasive than the first two pages of your paper.

  16. Scott:

    I found different supporting data for that conclusion. I was sticking with the paper supplied by Mr. Goggin.

    I found no supporting primary data in his paper, or the immediate references.

    My conclusions come form analyzing the spreadsheet links supplied in the document link he provided. Admittedly the data could be there, but I do not find a link to the primary sources immediately from the original paper and have other things to do.

    Perhaps my concerns should be limited to the style of writing. I prefer a clear link to the original source data. Perhaps I missed it.

    …and Where is wind on this page?

  17. Scott & Tom:

    See page 5&6 of his linked pdf.
    See paragraph beginning:”Specifically, DOE Data…”

    The claim is:

    “Texas…Between 2005 and 2008 carbon dioxide emissions declined by 3.3%…”

    Here is my claim — but based on the EIA numbers in the spreadsheet referenced…

    Carbon based fuels were 88.5% of the mix in 2005 and 85.2 % of the mix in 2008. That is a 3.3% reduction.

    Further — I saw that the emissions were estimates…

    See this link…

    Also the numbers in the document appear to be incorrect in the same paragraph… (1.4% and 4.6% as opposed to their numbers)


    Happy to give respect.

    Hopefully they will reqriet the numbers with data in simple tables and a a direct reference for each table.

    Plus the base lines are constantly shifting — are we discussing 2004 – 2008 or 2007 – 2008 or 2005 – 2008?

    It makes it difficult to dance if the beat keeps changing.

    The document should have a common time baseline and graphs to make it easy, and a disclaimer that emissions appear to be estimates.

    Yes, I apologize for rudeness — but hope to see some improvements in the claims at the same time.

    enough said…

  18. Hopefully this is the last of the posts on the AWEA matter – but it should give some insight into how some people might analyze the claims made by AWEA and my counter-claim and Scotts counter-claim. Tom was relatively neutral so I won’t say anything about his comments.

    Keep one other issue in mind. They have stated a hypothesis that the reduction CO2 was due to adding wind power to the energy mix. I only have to show that their claim could be wrong. I do not have to establish a counter claim.

    To dispute their claim, I claimed that the AWEA report was not based on empirical evidence. Why? Because the spreadsheets available for the US DOE have the following disclaimers added.

    a) Table 7. Electric Power Industry Emissions Estimates, 1990 Through 2008 (Thousand Metric Tons)
    b) Source: Calculations made by the Electric Power Division, U. S. Energy Information Administration.

    The word empirical denotes information gained by means of observation, experience, or experiment. That is a definition – it is not open to argument or discussion. Calculations or estimates are not empirical evidence.

    All of the emissions data are calculations – not observations – sometimes they are WAGS. So I rest my case on that issue. The AWEA calculations (based on estimates) could in reality be incredibly high – or extremely low – your call!

    I want to make a couple of comments on the emissions issue from another perspective. What was not in the paper was an explanation of the assumptions. For example – you could make this statement: “It is assumed that all the emissions circumstances for all the plants remained identical throughout the period of data collection.”
    There – that would have solved it – right? Well no! You have to check and determine if all the plants in the affected region did remain the same. If scrubbers were installed on coal plants – all bets were off. If the fuel mix was changed – all bets are off. Even if it was a particularly cold year (like this year) or a particularly warm year that may well change the ratio of power output to emissions generated. So, you have to check – and you have to declare what you did to check to ensure that comparisons are meaningful. This would be the most difficult part of the AWEA claim.

    Second, correlation is not causation. For example in Colorado the output of the hydro generation increased 18% over the same period – admittedly it is a small part of the mix – but what was done to prove it did not have a disproportionate effect? There appeared to be no treatment of this matter at all!

    A second matter in the Colorado data that was never explained is more serious. If you follow through on the Colorado spread sheets and look at the capacity for 2007 and 2008 it appears to be identical. The load factor is about 14% in 2007 and 34.6% in 2008. Why? Was 2008 a really windy year? Was 2007 particularly bad? I expect to see about 30% for a “good year”. That should have been explained. Maybe the turbines were only operational for half the 2007 year. Did this have anything to do with apparent improvement?
    So did AWEA prove their case? No. Did the “opponents” prove their case? Good question – I have not read their report – but I have my suspicions.

    This is why papers get submitted to peer review – to catch these kinds of omissions or errors. Peer review has fallen into disrepute – but it does have its uses.

    Now I could write a lot more – but let me point out that Mr. Goggin is supported by big rich wind companies with very deep pockets. I get nothing for this. No “Big Oil” checks, no brown paper bags filled with cash. Nada!

    Now turnabout is fair play. Mr. Gogin is able to read and criticize my paper too. I wish he would. Every suggestion for improvement is appreciated.

    And do remember that CO2 is a trace gas – less than 0.04% of the atmosphere. It is a plant food and without CO2 most forms of life would die out – at least on this planet.

    Mr. Goggin had better hire some people to review his work. I have no more interest in the matter.

  19. That’s a lot of work David. You made me feel lazy for my quick cut-and-paste, so I’ve looked at the spreadsheets of the data and read through Mr. Goggin’s link. Having done some work, I can agree with your assessment of Mr. Goggin’s work.

    NOx has a very high CO2 equivalence in the AGW world (I tonne of NOx is equated with 300 tonnes of CO2). Coal use was down 3.1% in Colorado from 2007 to 2008, and CO2 emissions from coal down 2.55%, but NOx down 4.22% while the US as a whole was down 8.8%). So now that I’ve thought about it, Colorado didn’t reduce CO2 equivalency much differently that the US in total.
    In Texas, coal use did decline as demand rose 2% from 2005 to 2008, but it only dropped .8%, while the CO2 equivalent emissions from coal dropped 3.2% – natural gas use dropped a little over 2%, but emissions from natural gas in CO2 equivalent terms dropped about 8%.

    So coal, and gas, got cleaner production.
    Just like the federal summary said.

    That doesn’t mean wind didn’t reduce emissions – but it does mean you can’t claim reductions were only because of wind.

  20. This thread has provided some interesting food for thought. Though the initial post was clearly focused on a particular wind development effort in Ontario, and describes the effect of adding a wind and gas combination to that grid, the AWEA jumped in with a link focusing on some carefully selected analysis in Colorado and Texas that blamed questions about wind’s CO2 reduction on the fossil fuel industry.

    I suspect that target was chosen because the fossil fuel industry tends to be a good “boogeyman” in public discussions about energy, with wind and solar trying to claim white knight status.

    The relationship, however, between wind and the fossil fuel industry includes a large number of different players who have different agendas. In Ontario, there is a choice being made to eliminate coal and attempt to replace it with a wind and gas combination. Interested players – like Energy Probe – are certainly not anti fossil fuel, they are pro natural gas and anti-coal.

    The current CEO of the AWEA, Denise Bode, has a deep, lifelong history in the oil and gas industry. Here is an interesting quote:

    “Bode dismisses the criticism, arguing her fossil fuel background is an asset. She knows the strategies of oil and gas businesses, she said, and understands how they can partner with wind. Her change of political parties, she said, means she understands both and can bridge differences.

    Anybody that knows me knows that I don’t do things I don’t really care about,” Bode said in an interview. “I chose this job because it was something I was passionate about, that I felt like I could use all the experience I had, working 30 years in the energy area.

    “I know,” she added, “where everybody’s buried in energy.”

    Here is another interesting quote from a political figure who is closely identified with renewable energy mandates – former Senator Tim Wirth. He was speaking to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association in July 2009:

    “Many of you have, for reasons that are absolutely beyond me, decided that you are going to oppose the solar and wind industry, just at the time that is the teddy bear of American energy policy. Everybody wants to embrace solar and wind. But what happens when the wind doesn’t blow? What happens when the sun doesn’t shine? It’s natural gas that should be filling in that gap! You should be the closest buddy of the wind and solar industry and all be kissing each other in the neck and walking together into get this legislation passed.”

    Wirth is also closely associated with the natural gas industry, so his recommendation indicates that there is a strong faction within that industry that understands that increasing wind penetration also increases natural gas sales, so the two deep pocketed industries often go arm in arm to politicians for mutual benefit.

    It is disingenuous for the AWEA to blame the fossil fuel industry for all questioning of the overall effect of larger and larger wind fractions on CO2 reductions. The response paper that Michael Goggin linked to also included a footnote (8) that demonstrated a pretty significant slant with the following statement:

    “Electric demand already varies greatly according to the weather and major fluctuations in power use at factories, while electricity supply can drop by 1000 MW or more in a fraction of a second when a large coal or nuclear plant experiences a “forced outage” and goes offline unexpectedly, as they all do from time to time. In contrast, wind output changes slowly and often predictably.”

    There is an excellent response to this comparison between wind reliability and nuclear plant reliability at

    My position in this discussion is that I favor more nuclear power, which is a technology that has a much stronger empirical record of reducing all emissions from electrical power production, not just CO2. It is also a technology with the demonstrated capability to play better in a grid with varying demand – France uses load following nuclear, and the submarines that I used to operate could change power even quicker than most diesel engines or gas turbines.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights

  21. Rod:

    Nice article.

    You are preaching to the choir. 🙂

  22. David – thank you. Sometimes the choir needs “preaching” or at least some additional talking points.

    Also, the thread indicated that there are at least a few people who are not part of the choir who are reading this.

  23. Thanks Rod. The thread should come back to the original article – which was about nuclear.

    And you not only won’t get arguments from me, even the government knew, a couple of years ago, nuclear with load following capability is what is required.

    In 2008 90% of Colorado’s supply came from gas and coal, while 77% of Ontario’s supply came from nuclear and hydro – so it’s pretty comical for Colorado to be held up as exemplary in terms of emissions from electricity generation.
    But, it is refreshing to have some challenges that require responses. Now that I’ve reviewed the Colorado, and Texas, data, and read the comments from the EIA national summaries, it is clear the biggest impact has been from cleaning up the old sources.
    The approach our current government canceled way back in 2003.

  24. I find Mr. Goggin’s allusion to the fossil fuel industry quite ironic, as all of the wind farms in our area are owned by oil and natural gas companies. In the excerpt below, a spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute admits to investing billions of dollars in wind energy. He also indicates that he does not see wind being much of a threat to the profits of the oil and natural gas industry, likely due to its intermittent nature, non-dispatchability and low capacity perfomance.
    Kent Hawkins has some interesting work on whether wind energy actually reduces emissions over at MasterResource.

    “Probably not, said American Petroleum Institute spokesman Bill Bush, adding that he is “not concerned” about the alternative energy industry’s efforts and “not aware of any impact” they’re having on the petroleum industry’s fortunes.

    Bush also emphasized that the oil and gas industry “understands that there is a role for alternative energy” and has “invested billions in it.”

  25. Another perspective on Colorado and Texas:

    “Recent research strongly suggests how this problem defeats the alleged carbon-reducing virtues of wind power. In April, Bentek Energy, a Colorado-based energy analytics firm, looked at power plant records in Colorado and Texas. (It was commissioned by the Independent Petroleum Association of the Mountain States.) Bentek concluded that despite huge investments, wind-generated electricity “has had minimal, if any, impact on carbon dioxide” emissions.

    Bentek found that thanks to the cycling of Colorado’s coal-fired plants in 2009, at least 94,000 more pounds of carbon dioxide were generated because of the repeated cycling. In Texas, Bentek estimated that the cycling of power plants due to increased use of wind energy resulted in a slight savings of carbon dioxide (about 600 tons) in 2008 and a slight increase (of about 1,000 tons) in 2009.”

  26. Lynn,

    Your quote from the Wall Street Journal relies on a study from Bentek, the executive summary of which can found on their site. You can only get the full study by disclosing personal information. Based on the executive summary and comparing its reported results against the EIA data I quoted above, my view is that the Bentek study is junk science.

    In saying this, I am not championing wind power or ignoring the differences between Colorado and Ontario or trying to downplay the glories some claim nuclear power deserves or pretending that the wind industry doesn’t rely on junk claims too.

  27. There is a lot of junk science about CO2 and the need for mitigation of emissions. I am not sure that the report in question (Lynn’s link) is one — I may pull the full report later. I would judge the AWEA reference to be so for reasons I gave earlier. So maybe junk vs junk is ok. 🙂 …and not that any of the papers were totally so!

    In the meantime, if people want to learn more about CO2 and make better judgments of the function of CO2 then I suggest the following web site.

    Recall that CO2 is a trace gas, is less than 0.04% of the atmosphere. (Check Wikipedia) and is essential for plant life to grow. Generally, higher levels of CO2 say greater than 0.06% (600ppm) encourages plant life — but particularly so in drier climates.

    As far a nuclear power goes, I would rather see Nuclear Power any day over Industrial Wind Turbines. But if I had to chose between coal and gas or wind turbines — I would take coal and gas — with scrubbers to remove NOX and other truly noxious gases — as long as the CO2 was let loose to fertilize the farmers crops.

    Now hopefully we can stick to discussing the excellent paper by Donald Jones.

  28. Lynne:

    Good find. Had a quick look will look in detail later.

  29. Pingback: Ontario’s electricity – greenhouse gases up, cost up, security down – 2013 December | The Don Jones Articles

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