McGuinty’s reality

In the wake of his smart-meter flop, expect blackouts and appliance shutdowns

We’ve got to contend with reality,” Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty told the provincial legislature last fall, in explaining that Ontarians need smart electricity meters to adapt to a changed “world where we are building a new reliable, clean, modern electricity system.” With smart meters, his Energy Minister chimed in, the government was providing “the opportunity for Ontarians to be able to shift their usage from peak usage.”

Here’s the reality. Ontario doesn’t need Mr. McGuinty’s new electricity system, which will be immensely less reliable and immensely more costly than the current system. The only one who needs the system is Mr. McGuinty himself, to make good his boast of being the world’s first leader to get his jurisdiction entirely off coal.

Here’s another reality. Ontario consumers will never recoup the $1-billion-and-climbing cost of the province’s smart metering program, let alone the rest of his burgeoning mega-billion dollar electricity system.

And another. The poor and the middle class will disproportionately bear the burden, both with their pocketbooks and in unwanted lifestyle changes.

And another. Because Mr. McGuinty won’t be able to wring enough voluntary lifestyle changes out of the poor and the middle class through the carrot-and-stick prices that smart meters offer, he will need to resort to involuntary means.

In reality, the Ontario government needs smart meters for one overriding reason: After replacing the province’s ever-reliable coal stations with never-reliable wind and solar facilities, the province will have bought for itself a largely uncontrollable system dominated by power plants that can’t be turned off and on as needed. In addition to its nuclear plants, which must run 24/7 for safety reasons, the province will need to manage thousands of wind turbines and solar panels that can suddenly surge up or shut down on the whims of the wind and Sun.

During peak hours when the power grid can be severely tested, this highly unstable power system will be continually subject to blackouts. During off-peak hours, McGuinty’s power system will create surpluses so large that no customers can be found for them — Ontario, in fact, has already been paying utilities in the U.S. and other provinces millions of dollars to take excess off-peak power off its hands.

If Mr. McGuinty can persuade people to shift their power use from peak to off-peak times, he will simultaneously lessen both of his headaches: the off-peak customers will be soaking up excess power and the chance of a peak-time blackout will diminish. Smart meters are McGuinty’s persuaders: By charging consumers more at peak hours and less overnight, he hopes a carrot-and-stick approach will sway customers to change their ways.

Such time-of-day pricing makes economic sense in the case of large industrial power consumers, for whom the cost of smart metering is negligible compared with their overall power bill. It makes no sense when the cost of metering dwarfs potential savings. And it becomes downright egregious when the middle class is asked to change its lifestyles to suit the personal preferences of a politician.

Not that peak pricing has much effect in changing lifestyles. As Mr. McGuinty has been discovering, most people aren’t willing to cook their meals at 9 p.m. to save money on their power bill, and apart from running a dishwasher overnight, they generally have few other obvious opportunities to save.

The poor — including seniors, the disabled and others who don’t leave the home for work — also tend to consume more power during the costlier daytime periods, leading their overall bills to climb. McGuinty has considered arbitrarily increasing the already arbitrary peak price, but has held off following a public outcry. He likely couldn’t increase it enough to make a difference, in any case: According to one study of Swedish time-of-day pricing, it would take a three-fold increase in peak electricity prices to persuade the middle class to change its lifestyles.

Because voluntary measures won’t be enough to save the new Ontario power system, involuntary measures must come in. To accomplish this, Mr. McGuinty will need to complement his smart meters with a smart grid, able to selectively reach into the home to switch off appliances whenever required to avert a province-wide power failure. A smart grid is being built in Ontario, as are smart grids wherever unreliable renewable technologies are becoming dominant. In Austin, Tex., the smart grid has the capability to turn down the thermostat on some 100,000 homes. In the U.K., the capability will be countrywide, as Steve Holliday, the CEO of National Grid, revealed last week in an interview with BBC.

“The grid is going to be a very different system in 2020, 2030,” he told BBC, in explaining the profound changes that will accompany the country’s massive move to wind power. “We keep thinking that we want it to be there and provide power when we need it. It’s going to be much smarter than that. We are going to change our own behaviour and consume [electricity] when it is available and available cheaply.”

This is the new reality in the U.K. that the 5.5 million households now judged to be in “fuel poverty” will need to contend with. And it is also the reality that Mr. McGuinty and Ontario’s new poor will need to contend with.

Financial Post
LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and the author of The Deniers.

12 thoughts on “McGuinty’s reality

  1. I love this guy.
    Now get everyone else in TO to read and understand this..
    This energy shift is a butch of ribbish

  2. I think I read elsewhere (perhaps on this site), why this “smart grid” would never actually work.
    Not that people like McGuinty would not love to have such a system. This would be the envy of every tyrant and totalitarian regime in the 20th century. The regime could enter your dwelling and keep and eye on what the citizens were up to, by regulating their power supply. Frivolous activities like watching TV or reading late at night could be discouraged, or anything else the government did not aree with.
    It is chilling to think that such thinking is even taking place with our elected representatives.

  3. This is our future people:

    “Wind-based power systems are necessary to meet the government’s targets, he has explained, but they will require lifestyle changes.

    Under the so-called “smart grid” that the UK is developing, the government-regulated utility will be able to decide when and where power should be delivered, to ensure that it meets the highest social purpose. Governments may, for example, decide that the needs of key industries take precedence over others, or that the needs of industry trump that of residential consumers. Governments would also be able to price power prohibitively if it is used for non-essential purposes.”

    http://opinion.financialpost.com/2011/03/05/lawrence-solomon-don%E2%80%99t-count-on-constant-electricity-under-renewable-energy-says-uk-electricity-ceo/

  4. Selecting who gets power and who does not should not be up to the government. Anyone not in step with the government could have their power targeted for intermittent delivery, brownouts or blackouts whether or not it was needed or not to stabilize the grid. Smart grids put too much power into the hands of the government. Hopefully they never figure out how to use the technology.

  5. “Smart grids put too much power into the hands of the government. Hopefully they never figure out how to use the technology.”
    Well said. Unfortunate how technology is being used against us. Definitely not progressing as a society.

  6. Does the word “TYRANT” ring any bells here?

    We have at least two generations of soldiers and families who gave their lives fighting “tyrants” around the world.

    Why isn’t this guy and his “gang” in jail?

  7. And not the theoretical all for one, one for all kind. McGuinty is really an old school soviet-style, totalitarian communist. I lived in Moscow where the heat is centrally controlled. Until late October, there were many cold nights before the city’s heat was turned on. And once on, many days where we had to leave the windows open as it was too hot, on warm winter days. Not a fun way to live when your home’s heat is controlled by the government.

    Now McGuinty’s smart meter and smart grid plans intend to have the government control your appliances, light switches, TV, heating, A/C etc, all your electric usage. If consumers won’t change their behaviour, the government plans to force you to do it. Smart meters are only the beginning. All to accommodate unreliable and ineffective and very expensive wind and solar power.

    What planet are we living on when the choice of turning on a light in a dark room is gov’t controlled???

    As Trudeau said – the government does not belong in the bedrooms of the nation. Neither does it belong with its hand on my light switch, my thermostat or my TV remote.

    Say NO Now! Down with Dalton!

    And start planning how to make your home electricity independent of Ontario’s grid.

  8. To McGuinty!….One more thing here. Just try and shut down air conditioners when the temps in the summer hit 32+ degrees in the city’s apartments!……just try it!……………..I’ll say it one more time….Just try it!………………then we will see how comfortable you will be when people come hunting for you!………….
    Unless of course you’ve retired to China where you would fit in quite nicely with their leadership style of throwing Baby Girls out windows because the family had one too many children!

  9. How do you figure cheap Mr McGuinty are you going to change what you pay farmers like they pay in Manitoba 6 cents a k. Now that is more reasonable.
    But don’t put them near people. They are making us sick.

  10. About 30 years ago I started using the word “Techno-Peasant” to describe people without the technical knowledge that would become essential to survive in a computerized world. Some thought it was funny, some thought it was rude and demeaning — it has become reality.

    I think a new word or phrase that will shortly come into wide-spread usage will be the term “Energy Serf”.

    Perhaps we will see arrangements where the company you work for will negotiate contracts for your house to be supplied sufficient energy for you to work at home — and other such arrangements. Maybe if you are worth it to your new masters, you could even negotiate sufficient energy to fry your soy burger — or perhaps even warm your Soylent Green Drink.

    What is likely is that there will be pressure to move southwards to where people can survive without heating. Perhaps the USA should be more concerned about it’s northern border.

    And all of this?…. due to a non-crisis. No energy shortage. No Global Warming. Just generated panic to achieve political ends and to satisfy some peoples vision of what the world should be — or not. All done in the face of what is likely a “Global Cooling” crisis that is ignored.

    Pseudo-Science and ignorance wins the day. It always has, and it always will.

    Sit back, relax, and enjoy (fear?) the ride. 🙂

  11. “In Austin, Tex., the smart grid has the capability to turn down the thermostat on some 100,000 homes.”

    Actually I think he means “Turn Up the thermostats” as the controls are on the air conditioning… But we all know what he means.

  12. We too are making the same mistake, we are taking assertions , claims as facts.
    We are not energy poor folks.
    If green was the agenda and not profit based our subsidies would be affordable to help us adopt renewable energy.
    What is evil about the debt retirement charge being used to pay for this?
    First , toss this Liberal party out , then ake back our political system by referendom voting.
    We are being lied to . misled , and manipulated …they have started to take this nonsense into your schools.
    We don’t have an energy shortage.
    Where is the money that wasn’t used when we began paying the debt retirement?
    Where are the upgrades to energy plants?…
    We cannot allow energy for profit….

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