The right kind of green jobs

by Steve Aplin,  Canadian Energy Issues

Everybody who visits the Bruce nuclear station on Lake Huron is impressed. It is not only an enormous power producer—generating 4,697 megawatts of electricity as I write this—but also the economic engine of the Grey-Bruce region. It currently employs around 7,000 people: 3,700 full-timers who run the plant, and 3,300 contractors who are rebuilding units 1 and 2. Almost all of the latter are high paid, highly skilled tradespeople, working in exactly the kinds of jobs Ontario needs more of.

The term “green jobs” is often used when people talk about Ontario’s employment future. Wind turbines, which the green lobby touts as “green power” that creates green jobs, produce such unreliable power that they require a fleet of gas-fired plants running in parallel. After all, power consumers require real, not hypothetical, electricity. Since even the most efficient gas generator emits 550 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) for every kilowatt hour it generates, the wind-gas pairing hardly qualifies as green (see article).

And on the level of land use, or specifically the amount of power generated per unit of land, the wind-gas pairing is even worse. To get to the Bruce plant last week, I drove up to Owen Sound on Hwy 10. The route took me past the Melancthon-Amaranth wind farm north of Shelburne. It took me 5–10 minutes at 100 kilometres an hour to drive past this massive development. Wind turbines everywhere, and I must admit it all looked impressive.

But looks can be deceiving, and in this case they are. According to the Ontario Power Authority, 4,860 hectares (over 12,000 acres) have been optioned for the wind farm. Currently the farm is capable of generating 200 MW. That works out to 36.8 hectares (90.9 acres) per MW capacity. And that is just for the wind side of the wind-gas pairing. I have yet to calculate the hectares-per-MW for gas.

By contrast, the Bruce station sits on 930 hectares, less than one-fifth the size of Melancthon. It has today 4,500 MW of usable capacity, 22.5 times as much as Melancthon. (When units 1 and 2 come online next year, they will add an additional 1,500 MW for a total of 6,000 MW.) This works out today to 0.2 hectares, or 0.5 acres, per MW. I should add that the 930 hectares includes enough space for a “C” station, which could easily host at least another 3,000 MW of capacity.

In other words, the Melancthon-Amaranth wind farm requires 178 times as much land as Bruce does. And it will generate less than two percent of the actual electricity that Bruce does in a given year, assuming a 30 percent capacity factor for Melancthon and an 90 percent one for Bruce.

By every measure, the 7,000 jobs at the Bruce plant are green jobs. The 4,697 MW of power coming out of Bruce right now come with no emissions. By contrast, the intermittent energy produced by wind turbines must be backed up by fossil sources. Wind-gas is not green, it’s blue. Gas industry blue.  

The Bruce site is also the bridge from Canada’s impressive nuclear past to its future. Douglas Point, the world’s first commercial CANDU power reactor, is there, with all of its used fuel: 42 canisters occupying an area roughly the size of an average suburban home. Think of it: the plant generated over 18 billion kilowatt-hours, and its used fuel—which still contains much usable material—is tucked away on site, occupying a tiny patch. A gas-fired plant producing the same amount of electricity would have also produced over 10 million tons of CO2, not one gram of which would still be at the site. Each and every gram of it would have been dumped into the atmosphere.

As I said, Bruce represents the bridge to Canada’s nuclear future. And the world’s too. One of the most exciting developments in nuclear power these days is the advent of small modular reactors (SMRs). Two of the leading companies in that area today are NuScale and Babcock & Wilcox. Both are pushing small light water designs, intended to be sold in packs of multiple units. While the eight Bruce units, at 750 MW each, don’t exactly qualify as small, the two Bruce plants are organized around multiple units. In terms of licensing and operating multi-unit plants, Bruce, and the other two CANDU plants in Ontario, have much to teach future operators.

When units 1 and 2 are fully refurbished and back online next year, what will become of the 3,300 high paid and high skilled tradespeople who are doing the job? No doubt many will work on upcoming CANDU refurbishments around the world. But I hope some go to work building the new Darlington reactors.

Canadian Energy Issues © 2010, 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.

4 thoughts on “The right kind of green jobs

  1. McGuinty and any other Provincial Politician who continues this attack on the Citizens of Ontario by promoting Wind and Solar subsidizations should all be declared “criminally responsible” for Health Hazards to their very own electorate!

    Let the Wind and Solar Agenda continue without “subsidies” and see how it would stand on it’s own feet!

  2. Too bad that McGuinty and his advisors could not read this article and dozens like it readily available on the net. As has been pointed out by others, McGuinty’s fascination with wind power is not about energy at all, but simply politics. Even the politics are no longer helpful to his cause.
    Is his government still handing out permits for more wind turbine development?

  3. This is total politics! Anyone one with an ounce of common sense can see this.

    20 billion spent on wind turbines in the next 5 years for 5-10% of Ontario’s power.

    What if we took that 20 billion and gave every household $5 000 to install a solar hotwater system on their roof. Hot water is 1/3 of the average homes hydro consumption. This would eliminate 1/3 of Ontario’s power needs with no infrastructure or land needed. We would immediately create thousands of green retrofit jobs.

    Or, what if the government actually did a credible, well planned add campaign to the public with real ways to cut down energy usage in the home and office. I am sure we can save the 10% that wind will give the grid simply by education and conservation.

    The problem is the government does not want the home owner to be in control of their power usage. They want corporations to hold the power. If we eliminated public subsidies there would be marginal interest in wind power because there is no constant return on the investment.

  4. Nuclear energy technology is something I have been an ardent student of for over a decade.

    Although I am GA-GA for nuclear energy, I have absolutely nothing good to say about the CANDU. It is a money eating piece of garbage when compared to just about every other nuclear reactor on the planet. That is why out of the 400 or so operating power reactors globally, less then 50 are CANDUs the majority of which are right here in Ontario. That number INCLUDES 13 CANDU derivatives operating in India of which she is building 3 more. There are NO Canadian CANDU’s currently under active construction anywhere in the world. Construction on 3 in Romania has been halted.

    As with wind turbines, if we, the Canadian people, didn’t pony up billions to cover the endless cost over-runs for these things, they wouldn’t exist! AECL would not exist were it a private corporation unless, like the car companies, it got billions in bail-outs. As a crown corporation, it leveraged it’s failings and ended up costing us billions anyway!

    However, I absolutely concur that humanity’s only energy answer is nuclear energy. On this Steve and I agree. We even agree on the form this will likely take: To add to what Mr. Alpin has already said about small, modular, factory built nuclear reactors, go here: http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf33.html

    Sean Holt.

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