By Chris Vander Doelen, The Windsor Star, www.windsorstar.com
An old acquaintance wrote to me this week with several questions I’ve heard others ask about hydro rates and so-called green energy.
“A few days ago The Star reported huge increases in hydro to come in a few years,” my friend Pat wrote. “Why? With all of this new wind power, where is that hydro energy going?”
With over 100 giant industrial wind turbines now spinning high over the flat farmlands between Harrow and Blen-heim, and more rising every day, I suspect that’s a question that’s going to be asked a lot over the next 20 years – which is how long the public contracts for the windmills will last.
My friend apologized for not paying much attention to issues such as renewable energy, saying he doesn’t have a clue about it. I suspect most people are in the same boat.
The less you know about “green” energy, the more it was meant for you. By that I mean that wind turbines and solar farms don’t have to make any financial sense — and they don’t. They just have to make you feel good about the government. The turbines and solar farms may look good from afar to schoolkids inculcated with politically correct feelings and adults with vague environmental urges.
But they look far from good the closer you get to understanding the math and science behind them. Fortunately for the provincial government, fewer and fewer younger voters can grasp either of those disciplines anymore.
The reason our power bills are going up is that windmills are very expensive, they don’t work enough to pay for themselves, and they have to be heavily subsidized.
The upside, if you can call it that, is that they look great if they aren’t in your backyard or blocking your favourite vista. And they create the widely held view that green investments are being made on your behalf to “save” the planet.
The reality is, neither the wind nor the solar farms now being built will reduce how much power Ontario uses, and the amount of fossil fuels they will save us will be a drop in the bucket.
Industrial wind turbines don’t produce power all the time. As Denmark has discovered after building the world’s largest wind farm (4,000 turbines and counting) windless days mean you still have to keep all the old coal, gas and nuclear power plants running no matter how many windmills you put up.
In fact, in this region, they probably won’t turn much during our worst power demand peaks — blazing hot, windless August afternoons.
The fact Ontario is building a very expensive redundant power generation system that only works part-time while we still have to pay to run the old ones is a major reason hydro rates are going up.
Those big white bird choppers cost $2 million each, and their owners are being paid at least double the going rate in Ontario for the power they produce.
I pay 13.3 cents per kilowatt hour for my electricity, by my own calculation. That price includes about 5.5 cents per kWh for the electricity we consume, transmission charges, debt retirement charges (to cover the $16 billion Liberal premier David Peterson blew on the Darlington nuclear fiasco back in the 1980s, plus some other stranded old hydro debts) plus 13 per cent HST.
Maybe our rates wouldn’t be going up so much if the power price paid to windmill owners was in the same ballpark as what I pay now. Instead, they are paid more than double the going rate: 13.5 cents per kWh if the turbines are on land, 19.5 cents for any eventually built “offshore” in the Great Lakes.
As a lover of machinery, I happen to enjoy seeing dozens of turbines spinning lazily in the distance on my daily commute though the centre of the county.
And with the last name I carry, windmills are bound to stir ethnic memories.
But government has made me skeptical enough to wonder out loud this week why they were turning on a seemingly windless day.
They wouldn’t really burn regular electricity, would they, just to make them turn so it looks like they’re really working? My wife shushed my cynicism — then laughed.
But the short story: our hydro rates are going up to pay for the pretty windmills.
I’m just glad the kids are now old enough to understand all this. I don’t know what I’d say to questions from impressionable teens still confident all government projects are there to help them.