The Cost of a Bad Idea

The following letter was written by Bill Palmer, who has contributed to these pages before.


What would you do with $50 Million dollars a year or more wasted in Ontario due to a bad idea fixated on by a government that does not listen?

On December 3, 2012, the Ontario Association of Food Banks reported that 412,000 Ontarians, including 160.000 children access food banks each month. 50 Million dollars wasted each year would provide over $100 for each of these people to help them eat better, but one reason it is not is that at least that amount of money was wasted in each of 2011 and 2012 by a government policy that forced utilities (and thus consumers) to preferentially purchase high cost electricity from wind turbines, even when it was not needed, forcing low cost base load generators like nuclear and water power stations to dump steam or water and not produce the electricity that they could have. Does this waste bother you?

 A table  shows from data provided by the Ontario Independent Electrical System Operator (IESO) that for the last two years (2011 and 2012) one or more Bruce B Nuclear Generating Units have been placed on condenser steam discharge valves (CSDVs) on about 75 days per year due to excess baseload generation. Why was there excess generation? On top of existing base load generators Ontario has added over 1900 MW of wind turbine generating capability that produces best at night when the electrical system demand is lowest. It also has added natural gas generators that produce continually.

 As a result, the table shows the number of MWh that Bruce B Units were derated in 2011 was approximately 369,000 and in 2012 (to date) 374,000. The system needs to keep the Bruce B units available to load when the wind turbine output falls and the system load increases, so they are paid a flat rate (about $45 a MWh) to keep the unit at high power, dumping steam that is not used to produce electricity. Bruce B were paid some 17 Million dollars in each of 2011 and 2012 to produce and dump unused steam that could have produced electricity, while wind generators were paid (at $135 a MWh) some 50 Million dollars in each of 2011 and 2012 to produce the electricity that was already paid for to have been produced at Bruce B. In some cases we had to sell excess generation to the USA utilities at a cost to us. Today (Dec 16) at 4 AM, the wind turbines were producing 1235 MW and the electricity cost was minus $128.10 a MWh, meaning the system was paying customers in the USA to take electricity off our hands.

 Energy costs are always a big number, but still an unnecessary cost of over $100 million dollars over the last 2 years is enough to make most people sit up and take notice. Similarly, at some hydraulic generating stations such as at Niagara, unused water had to be spilled, as there is no dam to store unused water behind. This would increase the unnecessary cost even further. The table also shows that on over 40% of the days when it was necessary to reduce nuclear unit generation due to the excess baseload generation at night, the wind turbines produced less than 50% of the output in the hours from 8 AM to 1 PM that they had produced from midnight to 5 AM. For example two days ago (Dec. 14), at 1 AM, when the system load was low, the 1720 MW of monitored wind turbines were producing 1240 MW while at 6 PM when the system load had increased by over 5000 MW from the value at 1 AM, the wind turbine output had fallen from 1240 MW at 1AM to 31 MW . On many days this reduced generation from wind when the system load increases strain on the electrical system.

 However, the impending situation is far worse. While there are now 1911 MW of wind turbines in operation, the OPA already has an additional 3835 MW (over twice as much) wind generation under signed contract expected to be in service by 2015. This will give Ontario the potential to produce over 5700 MW of excess generation at night that experience shows usually falls when the load peaks in the daytime. No amount of nuclear unit and hydraulic unit derating will be sufficient to accommodate the excess at night, nor will sales due to limitations on the tie lines out of Ontario. The end result will be to force nuclear units off line, making them unavailable the next day when the system load increases and the wind generator output drops, meaning that low cost generation will be replaced by high wind and gas fired cost generation, severely threatening the system integrity, and costing the economy. We are watching an electrical system careening out of control down a hill, knowing that there is a brick wall at the bottom, and disaster is imminent.

 Wind generation also poses other problems than cost. The first priority must be to help people who have already been harmed by wind turbines erected too near to their homes, who are suffering adverse health effects, and may have been forced to vacate homes that they now cannot sell.

 Secondly, the Green Energy Act and the Renewable Energy Regulations that flowed from it failed to address evidence presented that identified (including from MOE field staff) that improperly sited wind turbines will do harm to citizens, and the regulators and chief medical offer of health have failed to responsibly investigate and respond to an accumulating body of evidence of harm. There is an urgent need to revise the Renewable Energy Approval Regulations to address issues identified including:

·      the cyclical sound from wind turbines

·      the low frequency component of wind turbine sound

·      the intrusive nature of wind turbine sound in rural areas of quiet background

·      the public safety risk posed by siting wind turbines too close to roadways and lot lines posing risk to members of the public by ice and blade failure

 A bad idea is a mistake, and the best time to correct a mistake is as soon as possible, not to carry on making it worse. Please, action is needed now.

Bill Palmer

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