by Rick Conroy, Wellington Times
If you oppose industrial wind energy you are, according to the McGuinty Liberals, in favour of coal-fired electricity— an energy source that kills and damages children’s lungs. Unless you support Dalton McGuinty’s plan to blot the horizon with wind turbines you are worse than a NIMBY— you are complicit in killing children.
The shrillness and sheer emptiness of the McGuinty Liberals’ arguments on the energy file has been revealing in recent weeks. It is, I think, a measure of the desperation the provincial government is feeling less than a year away from an election. They realize the anger and resentment they’ve stirred up in rural Ontario, where they have unleashed their industrial wind energy experiments. More worrisome for the provincial Liberals is the average Ontarian is losing faith that Dalton McGuinty is on the right track when it come to managing the province’s electrical system—a feeling confirmed each time we open our hydro bill.
It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. The promise of a clean, green energy future was thought to be a sure vote getter for the provincial Liberals. Even if it didn’t work the mere appearance of massive turbines dotting the horizon and shiny panels covering thousands of acres of tillable farmland was evidence that McGuinty was doing something— and that something was better than nothing. And besides, if we built the wind and solar factories the technology required to make it work— electricity storage, a new, more flexible grid etc.—would surely follow along shortly. Just to be safe McGuinty courted the Korean industrial giant Samsung, with $7 billion of taxpayer dollars—believing naively, and wrongly, they would have the technical capability he found lacking in his own province.
In fairness, McGuinty always said his clean, green energy future would cost more. The ironic bit is that it is the one part of the story, namely higher electricity bills, in which he was straight with voters; yet is the one aspect most likely to bring him down next fall.
Let’s however, return to the propaganda—the lie that opponents to industrial wind energy support coal-fired electricity. It’s a talking point McGuinty Liberals have repeated again and again—lately with greater urgency. Local MPP and McGuinty cabinet minister Leona Dombrowsky repeated it three times for effect in a brief interview last week. It is a myth the faithful have mouthed for years.
It is however, the reddest of red herrings. Aclumsy diversion at best. It is akin to suggesting that opponents to fiscal policy love poverty. One has nothing to do with the other— but is offered as if there is a meaningful relationship between the two. And repeated until it is believed.
The truth, however, is all the wind turbines in all the world won’t replace a single coal-fired electricity generating plant. They haven’t anywhere in the world and they won’t here. The reason is very simple—coal, gas, hydro and nuclear generated electricity can be turned up and turned down to meet current demand. Add more fuel (or water in the case of hydro) and electricity production rises. Reduce it, the power production falls. These forms of electricity generation can be harnessed and managed.
This is important because our power needs, as a province and a household, fluctuate during the day. And since electricity, on the scale of a grid, can’t be stored, the electricity must be produced at the millisecond it is needed.
Intermittent electricity sources such as wind and solar energy only produce electricity when the wind blows and the sun shines—and their production varies depending on the strength of the wind and the number of clouds in the sky.
You cannot call up wind energy and you can’t turn it down. This means that behind every wind turbine is a gasfired generator with an operator on the pedal—riding the whim of the wind and the sun. But even under this flimsy arrangement the combination can’t replace coal-fired generation. It is simply too difficult to generate a meaningful amount of electricity in this way. Allowing intermittent generating sources to amount to anything more than a symbolic portion of generation capacity would put the safety of our residents, the health of our economy and security of the grid assets in jeopardy.
These two charts provide just a couple of glimpses into the difficulties Ontario’s electricity system operators face in dealing with wind and solar energy sources. Both charts were prepared by Ken Kozlik, chief operating officer of the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), the government agency that “makes the market” for electricity in the province. The charts are from a presentation he made to an industry conference in Washington last year.
The chart at right shows a solid line with steps upward depicting the amount of wind energy theoretically available if every turbine was spinning at the optimal speed. The other line illustrates the actual electricity produced over the course of a year by Ontario’s wind turbine fleet. It paints a clear picture of the challenges in managing a source of electricity that is so erratic and unpredictable, that it never achieves a stable production point.
The second chart is perhaps more revealing. Each horizontal line represents a single day (24 hours) of energy production by Ontario’s wind energy fleet in Dec. 2008. No two days are alike. Output ranges from zero to 700 megawatts. It is a very good graphic representation of why wind energy cannot be used for base-load generation. Wind energy is available only when it is available and even then must be backed up by a nimble alternate generating source at all times. This is why wind energy has never displaced a coal-fired plant, nor can it.
Does this mean wind energy will never work? Who knows what the future will hold? Today, however, it means Dalton McGuinty is spending many billions of dollars filling the pockets of wind and solar developers as well as industrial conglomerates in pursuit of an electricity generating source his own energy officials know won’t be meaningful to the overall supply of electricity in the province.
For this reason his government will likely pay a price next fall.