Gas and wind on the Ontario grid – not a chicken or egg thing

by Donald Jones, P.Eng

Natural gas or wind, what comes first? How often are we told through the media and via government spin that natural gas-fired generators will back-up wind generation whenever the wind drops. This gives the impression that gas is there solely to support wind. Not true.

The Ontario grid depends on dispatchable gas, which is replacing dispatchable coal. Wind is not needed at all as far as grid capacity is concerned. To assign a “capacity factor” to wind generation makes no sense since the grid does not need its capacity.

Wind has been added in the belief that periods of wind will reduce the amount of gas being burned and greenhouse gases being emitted. Wind is erratic and intermittent, is not dispatchable, and is added to base load whether needed or not. Nuclear and large hydro run base load. Stored water hydro is fully committed to intermediate load (daily load cycling), some operating reserve and to short periods when dispatched in response to grid load changes until other slower generators catch up. This means gas generation, as well as supplying intermediate and peak load, must be dispatched to discretely move power up and down for the longer term grid changes (load following), including those caused by wind, and be quickly available in case the wind drops.

The erratic minute to minute fluctuations of wind are smoothed out by the rotational kinetic energy of the grid generators, by the hydro and fossil turbine-generators on the grid changing their output by normal speed governor action, and by Automatic Generation Control using a small amount of hydro generation.

The intermittency of wind is handled by dispatchable gas generation. Large amounts of wind in the future will result in costly inefficient operation of the grid, and especially in wear and tear of the gas generators, with little, if any, reduction in greenhouse gases. There is no chicken and egg analogy with gas and wind. Gas comes first.

Indeed the government plan is to have around 12,000 MW of gas generation available in the next few years, with present gas generation at around 8,000 MW. So, how much wind generation can integrate with 12,000 MW of gas. According to the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) the dispatchable range of the Ontario combined cycle gas turbine plants is between 70 and 100 percent full power.

Enough gas generation has to be quickly available (depending on how fast wind is fading and the accuracy of the wind forecast) to pick up the slack if the wind drops. Assuming all the 12,000 MW of gas is from combined cycle gas turbine generators (in reality there will be some simple cycle gas turbine units for peaking and operating reserve and some combined heat and power plants adding to base load) then if they are operating at the bottom of their dispatchable range they will accommodate 3,600 MW of wind generation, assuming no other make-up like hydro, imports or demand response loads.

This amount of wind is more than twice the present operating reserve requirement for the grid.  In reality the gas generators would be taken down well below their dispatchable range to accommodate wind which means it will take them longer to get back into the dispatchable range when the wind drops.  Incidentally, according to the IESO, coal has a dispatchable range of 20 to 100 percent which means that if we stick with the roughly 6,000 MW of coal until it can be replaced by an expanded nuclear fleet the grid would be able to integrate 4,800 MW of wind. However since wind and nuclear are a bad mix there would be no point in having any expensive wind with its associated infrastructure.

Steam bypass will make new nuclear more flexible but at the cost of wasting the energy in the steam plus it is not smart to keep moving the output of multi-billion dollar nuclear plants, producing clean reasonably priced energy, up and down just to accommodate the intermittency of wind. The grid already has about 1,200 MW of wind and 3,500 MW more is expected to be added soon by a consortium led by Samsung and the Korea Electric Power Corporation and by a multitude of other projects and even more, to a total of over 8,000 MW, when grid connections become available.

Is Ontario being too optimistic with the amount of wind the grid can accommodate to the detriment of grid reliability? Does the government really believe its own spin that wind comes first and will it add more polluting expensive gas generation, whose cost depends on gas price volatility, just to accommodate more megawatts of expensive wind even though gas generation’s contribution to the grid would not be needed?

Instead of promoting distributed generation (and the so called “smart” grid) using wind and non-renewable gas and oil on the high voltage and low voltage systems wouldn’t it make more economic and environmental sense to improve the reliability (improved monitoring of equipment, replacement, refurbishment, redundancy etc) of the present centralized system based on clean nuclear and hydro generation since fossil fuels are going to be scarce and expensive in the future?

The operation of the Ontario grid is complex and this is a simplistic perusal but it does raise questions that need to be answered.

Donald Jones, P.Eng

Other relevant pieces:
IESO – Will Ontario’s wind turbine power plants reduce greenhouse gas emissions?”, 

Time for the Ontario government to rethink this gas and wind thing“, 

 “IESO – less dispatching of nuclear if you please“,

Uneasy coexistence of nuclear and wind on the Ontario electricity grid“,  
Another inconvenient truth“,

14 thoughts on “Gas and wind on the Ontario grid – not a chicken or egg thing

  1. Was this published?
    Can this please get sent to all newspapers? Hornung is writing letters to the editor again in small town papers about how wonderful wind is for the locals.

  2. Industrial wind turbines cannot be connected a grid without matching peak load power capacity from a reliable power source. What Donald is presenting is the fact that as IWTs are connected to the grid the peak load capacity such as gas has to be there. IWTs increase the need for peak power production (above what is normally expected from use) and that would have to be built, for no other reason than to support the IWTs. This means an accelerate use of gas resources just to allow IWTs to operate. A good article and more should read it.

  3. It would be hoped the media would give this front page coverage. Facts against fuzzy feelings of the Liberal establishment. At the least hopefully Joe Worthington and/or Ezra Levant of the Sun, Terence Corcoran of the Financial Post will cover this. The Globe and Mail and the Star and their affiliates seem bound and determined to pander to the McGuinty left wing line of rationalization. Correct me if I am wrong, but this is the way I have been following the news.

    This inarguable evidence and the subsequent economic facts is what the government and their misguided policies will try their utmost to supress, minimize, or redicule.

  4. Agreed. Don Jones’ atricle should be published by the MSM.

    But one of politicians worst fears is an informed electorate.

  5. By using the figure from the PraireWinds Development wind project at Minot,N.D. of 1 post construction full time job for every 14 MW of power produced,you have for ~ 8000 MW in Ontario the creation of ~ 570 full time jobs.

    Of course line worker jobs will also be added but this number is unknown at present.

  6. The people of Ontario are being asked to bear steep increases in their Hydo Bills plus the additional costs of Cap & Trade in their taxes and/or Hydro bills.

    It seems that Quebec people will only have to bear the brunt of Cap & Trade costs due to the abundance of electric power supply that Quebec has. But they might have some small electric rate increases due to turbine installations. This remains to be seen. More information on this please?

    The people of Ontario will be burdened by all of these costs due to the ECO – NUT thinking that has prevailed here for the past number of years.

    So it’s time to payup folks. Even if Ontario does manage to get out of this situation it will still cost big dollars to get out.

  7. In response to Barbara’s comment re big dollar costs to get out, a mentor in business always quoted to me, “Your first loss is your best loss.” This may not be our first and best loss, but if this green energy policy is allowed to run its course and all the projected projects are allowed to be completed, imagine the acceleration of taxpayer debt and user costs. As it is the taxpayer is on the hook for litigation threatened by all sides of the debate and the government bureaucrats responsible for this fiasco bear no personal responsibility for their actions and at the end even get to keep their generous pension cheques, paid for by these same taxpayers. The god news is that we do not need to start over. We have nuclear power and can build on it. The advances in this field have made this the best alternative that we know to date.

  8. Right on Karen! Good for you. Ontario is indeed fortunate to have an adequate power supply to fall back on.

    It’s better to pay off now than to pile on more and more debt.

  9. Thank you Donald for this information. There is another wrinkle that has been mentioned here in the past – that of Surplus Baseload Generation. If the gas plants are kept spinning to accommodate the wind, they will be generating 12,000 times 0.7 equals 8,400MW regardless of what the net demand is. Add 9,000 MW of nuclear and 2,000 MW of hydro and we’re up to over 19,000 MW of generation that cannot just be stopped, plus some variable and uncontrollable amount of wind that won’t be stopped – unless we agree to pay for it regardless. Since Ontario’s daily demand typically bottoms at 11,000 MW and tops at 18,000 MW we end up having to export the excess, generally at very low (even negative) prices.

    And the scenario above will accommodate only about half of the wind that is in the pipeline. The quickest fix is to pull co2-free nuclear out of service, which has been done in the past, having replaced it with a “75/25” mixture of gas and wind.

    My numbers must have some sort of mistrake. Our government couldn’t be that stupid, could they? Aside from quibbling, if there’s something fundamentally wrong with my calculations I’d like to know about it.

  10. I believe the concept of those truly pulling the strings are to replace the 14000MW of nuclear (as Bruce 1 and 2 come back into service) with 14000MW of natural gas – under cover of 10000-12000MW of wind and the remainder in solar.

    Only 1/6th of the way there on wind and solar, and about 1/3rd there on the gas side, the numbers are currently showing about $3 billion added to bills via either the Global Adjustment directly (for wholesale market customers), or indirectly in its inclusion in the rates.

    I’ve tried to show this better at

  11. There is the assumption industrial wind turbines can be used to replace something. Just what can IWTs replace? They are too variable and are treated as an unknown variable on the grid by managers so capacity has to be available and provided by other reliable power sources. IWTs by any accounts do not replace anything, they are too erratic. It can only be assumed as there is no way to track or measure how much of the erratic power produced by IWTs is actually used or even sold. Since the erratic power produced causes surges up and down on the grid some of it or all of it could be dumped to maintain grid stability. IWTs increase inefficiencies and are useless in providing much if any useable power on the grid.

  12. Zen:

    You are right. Plus, we already have sufficient capacity to meet the standby needs. The IESO production figures confirm this. I have published (on this site) the few instances where we did approach our capacity — I believe that 27.000MW was the highest hourly draw since 2002. We have up to 35,000MW capacity, and usually 30,000MW is actually available on any given day. I am ignoring instantaneous draws where the (outdated) transmission grid was not capable of delivering the goods…

    In the spring when I was researching my first paper, I did not understand that as clearly as I do now — I simply wasn’t looking at that issue. Now that I have had an opportunity to analyze the overall picture I am mystified and amazed that we are installing unneeded generation capacity in copious quantities — while ignoring the fact that we can’t transmit the power/energy to where it is needed.

    IWT’s are being installed east of Toronto (despite low wind capacity) because there is some spare capacity there… Where the wind is better — Eastern Shores of the Great Lakes we have Little (if any) transmission capacity.

    I guess this is all the result of putting high school graduates with no science background in critical energy and science portfolios. Maybe he JazzMan (Dr. Music) will make things right!

    It’s not easy being green — bbrrrakkkk, croak!

  13. This article suggests that expensive wind power development is essentially useless as a source of reliable and affordable electricity generation.
    What is seldom estimated in energy studies is the opportunity cost of not planning for nuclear expansion. Surely after the McGuinty era, the next government will have to make more rational choices of what type of power will fuel electricty requirements. I fear that we will be paying doe decades to clean up McGuinty’s mistakes, and also to build the capacity and infrastructure that he ignored.

  14. “Large amounts of wind in the future will result in costly inefficient operation of the grid, and especially in wear and tear of the gas generators, with little, if any, reduction in greenhouse gases.”


    This has already been realized on every grid in the world that foolishly introduced industrial wind and solar energy. At least with solar, you know that it won’t be producing power at night. As for industrial wind energy… It has no redeeming qualities AT ALL!

    Why must we be governed by morons!



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