Ontario’s new dilemma: Too much power

by John Spears, Toronto Star

Ontario residents were bemused to discover that on New Year’s Day 2011, on average, they were paid to use electricity.   If that seemed unusual – and it is – it’s only the start.

Within the next two years, the conditions that produced the bonus New Year’s power could crop up about one day in every seven, according to an analysis by the agency that runs Ontario’s power market.

A big reason: about 5,000 megawatts of wind powered generation is due to be connected to the Ontario grid in the next few years, producing surges of power that are more than the province needs.

The power surplus may be a head-scratcher for consumers, who saw blackouts and power shortages only a few years ago.

But energy bureaucrats are now hard at work trying to head off the impending surpluses, which force the province to give away power not just to customers in Ontario, but also to the U.S.

The focus of their efforts is a report prepared by the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), which operates the provincial power grid.

The report notes that 5,000 megawatts of wind generation capacity will come on stream by 2013. (This is roughly the amount of power Toronto uses on a hot day.)

That flood of new wind power changes the balance of energy, says the report.

“The IESO would experience surplus conditions roughly 14.5% of the time based on average wind output,” it predicts.

Under normal market conditions that would cause the price to fall to zero or below and some generators would shut down.

But the new wind farms, operating under current contracts that pay the operator 13.5 cents a kilowatt hour, would see all of their power flow onto the grid at the contract price.

Customers shouldn’t start anticipating lower bills. Although the market price might show up as zero, customers are still on the hook for the contractual prices awarded to wind producers. That’s collected through the “provincial benefit” payment that shows up as a separate line on the bills of customers who buy from retailers. Other customers also pay, but it’s buried in their energy charge.

Most generators don’t suffer, despite the zero price. The majority sell their power at prices fixed by the Ontario Energy Board, or contracts through the Ontario Power Authority, all of which are funded through the provincial benefit payments.

There’s one other, counter-intuitive problem with increased wind generation. At the moment, more wind power means more gas-fired power.

Because wind power is variable, it has to be backed up by natural gas-fired generators, kept idling to be switched in if the wind dips.

The reserve generators also have to be paid for, and they boost carbon emissions that wind power is supposed to prevent.

Bruce Campbell, vice president of the IESO, is working on the issues raised by the wind power increase.

Part of the solution: Start treating wind like other generators and shut them out of the system if their power isn’t needed, and call them in when it is.

Energy bureaucrats, who never use a straightforward word when they can invent a technical term, call that “dispatching” power.

At the moment, all wind power automatically flows into the system. Rules may be needed to limit the flow when there’s too much.

“We need to integrate the wind generation,” says Campbell. “We want to be able to dispatch wind just as we do other generation.”

Potentially, that means having to tell a wind farm operator that we only need two-thirds of the power it is likely to produce today or tomorrow.

One of the issues Campbell is now discussing with the power industry is how to do that. If someone gets shut out, who is it to be, and what, if anything, should they get paid?

That’s a crucial question for wind farms, says Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA).

Hornung acknowledges that as wind power increases, the rules will change.

“There’s always been a strong desire among system operators to ensure that wind ultimately will be treated like other forms of generation.”

But he says his members have to know what the new rules are if their output is put on hold.

“Is there any compensation? If there is, what formula is that based on? Those details really matter,” he said.

Better weather forecasting is also essential to better wind management, says Campbell. The more lead time the system has to anticipate wind quantities, the better, and the IESO is looking for ways to get precise forecasting.

When wind is going to be strong, it may be a good time for a nuclear plant to schedule some short-term maintenance work, or for water-powered generators to collect water behind dams for use when the wind slackens, he says.

In addition, power users can be invited to take advantage of markets when demand is slack. Some industries can plan a short-term production speed-up if they know there’s going to be lots of power and low prices the next day.

Better forecasting should also decrease the need for keeping back-up generation running, says Campbell.

But the details of who gets to produce, and how much they’ll be paid, when there’s a power surplus, remain to be decided. The IESO is now gathering opinions.

Hornung says CanWEA has yet to make its submission, but will do so.

“It’s a discussion we all need to have.”

18 thoughts on “Ontario’s new dilemma: Too much power

  1. “…more wind power means more gas-fired power.”

    About time they started cluing in. This is the opposite of what the Ontario people are being led to believe.

  2. “Some industries can plan a short-term production speed-up if they know there’s going to be lots of power and low prices the next day.”

    LMO!!! Who writes this guys material ? Hahaha hey Ford, GMC get your union to work double speed this Wednesday the wind gonna be great !!! Hahaha I bet he even said it with a straight face !!!! Hahahaha

  3. If the “green energy” industry was treated
    like other generators and were shut out
    of the system if their power wasn’t needed,
    the industry would cease to exist.
    I can’t imagine Hornung being overly
    anxious in having a discussion with
    IESO on this topic.

  4. Let’s understand that too much energy on the grid is destructive.We have transformers rated 30 year life ,with some showing their age at 50 to 60 years.So we add in access power which has to be dissipated as heat through these transformer as the energy has to go somewhere.Well as some of these transformers are 500k to replace you can quickly see a price has to be paid .The result ,as more energy comes on the grid more damage over time is going to occur .So those delivery charges you see for the replacement of the equipment to get the power to the local utilities is going to escalate.But hey this has been well thought out …ummm no. REMEMBER,power produced has to be used immediate as there’s no way to store it.

  5. On the off-chance this revelation for Mr. Spears is related, I was very critical of two earlier articles he wrote spinning, and dismissing, the surplus in supply.

    My point there was taking the exceptional New Year’s Day, we could see where the surpluses come from every day – and natural gas has a low generation level on January 1st, that was roughly the average level for it only 2 years ago.

    And that level was around 1200MW, and that is about the total wind supply.

    So it’s very optimistic to assume 5000MW of wind would ONLY add 5000MW of supply – regardless of whether or not we need it.

  6. Is this John Spears fellow on drugs?

    Wind dispatchable?

    Ontario ratepayers getting paid to use electricity?

    A few short years ago Ontario suffered blackouts (Ontario caused) and power shortages?

    When has ANY of this come to pass?

    Apparently the IESO is going to start calling up wind plant operators and tell them they can only produce 2/3rd of nothing, or maybe something or whatever they may or may not be producing when we need or don’t need it?

    I’m guessing my “they were paid to use electricity” cheque is in the mail?

    What planet is this bozo living on?


  7. How can you forecast wind speed in advance as the speed varies so much even over short distances? You may be able to forecast a range of windspeeds over an area far enough in advance but no precise speeds. Weather fronts have agreat habit of not conforming to expectations. Then what if you get huge high pressure blocking areas that can last for several days.

    Same old story that we just need more studies!

    Huge amounts of money are going to be wasted so this “horse & buggy” technology can be purchased and financed by the suckers (Hydro customers) of Ontario.

    Then all these “horse & buggy” wind machines could stand idle or almost idle for days.

  8. While it doesn’t change my stance on health concerns of IWTs and distorted horizons, the techical side of me is interested in the innovations that spring up when certain industries have their backs to the wall.
    A few years back, there were a lot of “can’t’s” or “impossibles” floating around in the energy industry. Incorporating wind and solar into an “old boys club” conventional generator industry is a huge change for the OPA and Hydro One. It’s stepping on a lot of toes along the way.

  9. It’s difficult to understand why people don’t know in the 21st century that wind turbines are nothing more than “horse & buggy” wind machines with very low efficiency. They also don’t know that wind is a very POOR source of energy.

    So they use the excuse that if we just study this more we can make wind turbines work.

    This is a matter of science and not “old boys” convention. Wishing things will not make them happen. There is no new basic scientific inovation in wind turbines. They just gussied them up to make them look modern to the public.

    Then wind turbine promoters came up with a lot of propaganda to sell them to the people at huge cost.

  10. What a mess. An absolute, unbelievable mess…the result of political ideology over economic sensibility. Way to go, McGuinty Liberals. You have condemned Ontario families to a lifetime of economic hardship and energy debacles.

  11. Joseph, that’s an interesting point. I’d argue exactly the opposite.

    OPG, which was set-up with the intention of reducing it’s share of the market for generation, has held cost pretty well knowing government didn’t want them around.

    Wind, solar, smart grids … these are the fat kids feeding at the never-ending trough. They have no motivation to be efficient.
    A week ago the same writer quoted the IESO boss blowing off concerns about too much generation.
    It’s been happening for 6 years, and continues despite the collapse of the market price. It’s also been months since I argued the IESO had given up on trying to integrate wind into meeting Ontario demand – choosing to do the simple thing and just export every watt and let Ontarians eat the loss.
    There is a Wind Power Standing Committee at the IESO, and, like most things with the IESO, they have a great deal of information available online. The minutes for their May 13th,2010 meeting included closing out a subject that was on this site – Tom Adams challenged elements of a GE study on wind. This is the comment that stuck with me: “Mr. Adams expressed concern that this action item took 16 months to close. IESO acknowledged that the response was not timely.”
    The groups shows as only having met one time since.

  12. Wonder just how many MPPs can discuss machine efficieny and energy density with their constituents?

    These questions might be worth a try but don’t expect to get any answers. About all you will get is wind turbine propaganda they have learned from prepared scripts.

  13. The ONLY purpose that Ontario is following Wind Energy through to the bitter end is to establish a Market for the U.S.A. In other words Ontario will be THE generator of “Clean Green Energy” for the United States of America!

    It has nothing and I emphasize NOTHING to do with our interests as an Ontario Landowner and Consumer.

    It has been “decreed” and publicly stated in the “Green Energy Bible” by Robert Hornung who is pulling McGuinty’s electric “strings” in his CANWEA booklet called Windvision 2025.

    Read it for yourself at : http://www.canwea.ca/images/uploads/File/Windvision_summary_e.pdf

    If you want to know WHAT the real reason we are generating Green Energy you will see the plan there!

  14. Attempting to add a sporadic unpredictable source of power to the grid increases cost, makes the grid more difficult to manage and requires additional costs to be able to increase on-demand peak power needed to stabilize. We are paying premium prices to support wind companies to produce unpredictable sporadic power and pay additionally for on-demand power to stabilize our grid. This is occurring frequently for times when there is no power demand so we then pay someone to take the extra power with no expectations it is used productively. This is supposed to be a solution? Who is getting this cheap power that we are paying for as it sure is not us. How do you spell scam? Any discussions of planning nuclear shutdowns during expected windy weather puts this article in a special place in “What are they thinking?” and “What scope of expertise are they in as it is definitely not power management”.

  15. I’m laughing with Jack; that industry is to wait for the wind to blow and the average person has to time when they do laundry, what a joke!!!!!
    This is like Animal Farm, lets all get together and help the Pigs build the Industrial Wind Mill!!!!!

  16. Rod Taylor you are right on, import hydro from Quebec and Manitoba, that is what we should have done in the first place, instead of ruining rural Ontario and destroying people lives. Get rid of the Liberal Government, must have been something in that for them?????

  17. I thought wind was meant to displace other forms of generation, isnt it odd that there was to much power and none were shut down?
    Looks like another wind myth has been put to bed, wind power simply does not stop other forms of generation being used.

  18. Just like Bruce Poer, the industry will likely be paid to shutdown their turbines.
    Nice eh?

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