Denmark has seen Ontario’s future

by Lorrie Goldstein, Toronto Sun

20% of nordic nation’s electricity from wind power — with sky-high costs and no reduction in emissions

If you want to see the future of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s push for wind power in Ontario, look at Denmark today.

It has more than doubled its wind power production over the past decade or so and today produces almost 20% of its electricity from wind.

Denmark has been praised by everyone from U.S. President Barack Obama to New York Times global warming guru Thomas Friedman, for leading the international fight against climate change.

That was one of the reasons Copenhagen was chosen as the site of the UN’s 2009 meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its bid to draft, unsuccessfully as it turned out, a successor agreement to the Kyoto accord.

But despite all this green happy-talk, as veteran energy journalist Robert Bryce observes in his book, Power Hungry: The myths of ‘green’ energy and the real fuels of the future, Denmark’s reality tells a different story.

“(A) close look at Denmark’s energy sector shows that its embrace of wind power has not resulted in ‘energy independence’,” Bryce writes, “nor has it made a major difference in the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, coal consumption, or oil use.

“Despite massive subsidies for the wind industry and years of hype about the wonders of Denmark’s energy policies, the Danes now have some of the world’s most expensive electricity … And in 2007, their carbon dioxide emissions were at about the same level as they were two decades ago.”

The problems confronting Denmark are the same ones Ontarians are starting to experience.

Because wind turbines cannot supply continuous, on-demand power, Denmark has to back them up with conventional energy sources that emit greenhouse gases, in its case, coal-fired electricity plants.

In Ontario, McGuinty is slowly replacing Ontario’s coal-fired plants with natural gas ones to back up wind. But while natural gas burns far more cleanly than coal, it’s still a fossil fuel which emits carbon dioxide, is expensive to transport, highly flammable, and contains methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. This makes leaks both an environmental and safety concern.

Because the electricity generated by wind turbines cannot be stored, Denmark ends up selling up to two-thirds of it to Germany, Sweden and Norway at below-market rates.

Bryce notes in September, 2009, the Danish Center for Political Studies reported, “exported wind power paid for by Danish householders, brings material benefits in the form of cheap electricity and delayed investment in new generation equipment for consumers in Sweden and Norway, but nothing for Danish consumers.”

These problems are just starting in Ontario where, on New Year’s Day, hydro customers (us) had to pay Quebec and the U.S. $1.5 million to take our excess wind energy.

That was due to a combination of mild weather, low power demand on a holiday and the fact Ontario’s contracts with wind farm operators specify it must pay them for their electricity, regardless of whether it’s needed.

This will become increasingly frequent in Ontario in future, as more wind energy comes on line.

Bryce’s theme in Power Hungry is the global debate over renewable energy has been dominated by scientifically illiterate politicians making wildly optimistic claims about how quickly renewable energy can replace fossil fuels.

He’s also an inveterate number cruncher, who uses an array of statistics to show how incredibly naive this discussion has become.

Bryce’s proposed solution, written in 2010 before Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, is controversial — exploiting major new natural gas finds globally to gradually take over much of the work now done by oil and coal, before transitioning to nuclear power.

Power Hungry is a heavy but rewarding read for anyone who wants to understand the real challenges we face in moving away from a fossil fuel economy to renewable energy.

And that the happy talk we’ve been hearing from politicians, environmentalists and pundits about how relatively quick and easy it will be, is nonsense.

17 thoughts on “Denmark has seen Ontario’s future

  1. This Goldstein column is a keeper for showing to all your pro-wind neighbours, relatives, friends, and especially green behind the ears municipal councillors. We’ll all be paying steep power rates, while providing cheap power to our neighbours to the south, if the clamps aren’t put on our governments and private power corporations soon. Stop this insanity.

  2. Yes, we need for information like this to show town mayors like one mayor our group spoke to — he liked wind because… “You should see how high my electric bill was… it’ll be cheaper with wind (wind, of course is free, ha, ha ( “my ha ha).
    The more info, facts, proof, examples, that NO you will pay more relying on inefficient wind; the more we can conteract these false impressions that costs will be lowered.

  3. Bette,

    Google, Paul Gipe & Kathleen Law or Paul Gipe and any State or Province.

    Sept. 2007, Michigan introduced first full featured feed-in law
    Feb,2008, Illinois & Minnesota to introduce feed-in tariffs
    Aug.,2008, Wisconsin, Task force calls for feed-in tariffs
    Jan,2009, Indiana, Advnced renewable energy tariffs

    Also look at California.

  4. I don’t think ‘facts’ make any difference. As long as politicians and pseudo-technical types (McGuinty & Suzuki etc) make the decisions, they will be based on what is fashionable, not necessarily logical. Too bad, but I don’t have the energy or time to fight them!

  5. Bluenoser,

    Try following Paul Gipe in your province. You may be able to identify who sponsored feed-in tariffs.

  6. Brain,

    Not everyone has the time or energy to fight this but do what ever you can. Even just a little bit will help.

  7. I tend to agree with Brian in some ways… it begins to look, sometimes, like there is no difference between the “company developer” and the politician when they speak. In the US the US Department of Energy sites look more like “go, go for wind”.

    In my own mind I have almost equated it with another “silent spring” I really believe what is happening is so wrong; it’s wrong toward individuals as far as their homes and health, it’s wrong toward the birds and environment that I feel that it’s worth my time and effort to try to do something.
    I don’t like the personal time it’s taking from what I would really like to do,, but it just really makes me mad what’s happening. Maybe what I do won’t or doesn’t matter or won’t change things, but at least I tried. If we all sit around (& I’m saying this more for my own area in the US, rather than Ontario and North – as we tend to have our heads in the sand here) and just do nothing — these useless things will be everywhere and then rusting away. And, who will pay for it all in the end, us.
    If each person educates another, and another the truth about the wastefulness of relying on wind will win out. Someone who equated this with wind developers selling snake oil is a very true statement, I still believe wind companies have the best PR people around! Don’t have to prove anything just say its’Green”!

  8. @ Biran W: thanks for taking time to post.

    Goldstein is being too kind calling them “scientifically illiterate politicians”.

    This wind debate is a symptom of a bigger problem: politicians who would sell us out to the corporate interests. They take away our rights but give more power to the corporates, e.g. Green Energy Act denies us a say in decisions that affect us but we are forced to pick up the tab & face consequences. Step 1 is to keep informing family, friends, neighbours, co-workers about what’s going on.

  9. Bette,

    Wonder what the Tea Party would think about wasting a huge amount of U.S. tax dollars on useless IWT technology and got so few jobs in return for the money spent?

  10. I do spend time looking on some of the US sites, but haven’t found one central site (if that makes any sense) that really has the amount of information. And, I’m not sure I agree about US having ideas about what is wrong. And, when it comes to Wind.. neither political party will stand opposing it.
    This pervasive “greeness” is difficult to combat. The problem for us it appears started in the late 1990’s into 2000 and to now. Both parties seem to want to support it. Heaven forbid either party would want to stop handing out money.

    I relate a lot because (to me) the problems whether US or Canada seem very much the same.

    I find the comments and websites offered in comments very helpful. I love the hourly generator output.

    Barbara, The tea party has disappointed me. A speaker from our advocacy group spoke to the local tea party (the tea party leaders comments before the presentation). We’re open to listening to all. No up in arms about how much wasted money. They were not interested. I suspect many of the higher ups in our local group had leased land options for the proposed IWF.

    At a civic group where we presented – known tea party members were openly concerned about the money spent, but nothing happens.

  11. Adding wind to a grid system increases inefficiencies that challenge the idea 20% wind power production is a good thing. Wind power is such a low quality power source it requires the addition of backup power sources to produce a product worth buying in the free market.

  12. Bette,

    You may have to go higher up but the trouble now is that so many states are involved in IWTs with local people thinking it’s all right to cash in on this grand scheme.

    So maybe you will have to find out who got this into law in your state in the first place. Look for legislators with “green” connections.

    Paul Gipe went around speaking to various groups in favour of IWTs. Take a look at those groups and connections they may have to “green enery” NGOs. This is time consuming. But it paid off here.

    Lots of things can change before November 2012. Energy prices will be a big concern in the U.S. if gas remains around the $4/gallon. This will slow the U.S. economy.

  13. Bette,

    Google, your state & introduction of feed-in tariffs. See who sponsored the original legislation. Some law makers have bragged about this. It could also be some kind of panel/committee in which case you need to find out who was on the committe.

  14. Here’s one small victory from Idaho last week:
    “The 18-17 vote killed what would have given alternative energy developers — including geothermal, digester gas and irrigation-canal hydroelectric projects — a 6 percent break on energy production equipment through 2014. Also, the action affects 18 wind projects in their advanced stages that would have sought to qualify for the tax break, which now expires June 30.

    Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, led the opposition, blasting the measure as nothing more than a deal to help specific companies.

    “This has been crafted by people who will enjoy that rebate,” Stegner said. “It’s not been developed by policy makers with regards to whether it’s going to be good policy for the state. It’s been developed by the industries that will benefit.””

  15. Thanks for the info Barbara, because I’d never heard of this FIT activist before… From what I see he’s been here, and made his mark on the NDippers and our private NS Power. Heaven help us, because the only info available from Emera/NS Power are press releases – shareholders making a killing, and their executives’ $3+ million salaries. It seems they’ve taken Gekko’s “Greed is good” as their motto.

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