Ontario’s Exports

Ontario ministers (i.e. Duguid and Wilkerson) have continued to justify forcing the installation of wind turbine projects into communities that don’t want them by claiming the greater good is being served – specifically that wind energy allows Ontario to burn less coal, thus preventing the early deaths of hundreds of people due to asthma etc.  Their “hundreds of people” claim is highly dubious in the first place – see the research by Ross McKitrick.  In the second place, as I have shown over and over again, there is no connection between wind energy production and lower coal production.

As always, me being me, I continued to wonder where all this wind energy went. The most obvious answer is that it was exported, at great loss, to Ontario’s neighbors.  Certainly Ontario’s exports in almost all cases exceed whatever the wind is producing.  But when I ran the numbers, the relationship between wind production and exports was roughly the same as between wind and coal – which is to say, almost non-existent.  However, the relative shapes of the two sets of curves was close enough that I started wondering what the relationship of coal production was to exports.  And since I’m writing this posting, you know I found something interesting.

The first chart below shows the coal production, sorted by coal production over the 21 weekdays in January 2011.  There was nothing special about January, it was just the latest month available, and it was the only month I looked at – this does take a bit of time.  I avoided the weekends because Ontario’s demand is low enough then that very little coal is used regardless of anything else going on.  Two things jump out.  First, the exports are almost always larger than the coal production.  One has to wonder, if coal is killing hundreds of people every year, why is Ontario still even burning it?  They certainly don’t need it for themselves.  So they can earn some revenue from the exports?  They’re trading lives for money?  Or they don’t really believe their own words?  Second, the relationship between the lines is certainly not random.  In other words, more coal production strongly leads to more exports.

Next, I wondered how the wind+coal production compared to the exports.  The chart below is sorted by date, so there’s no trend line.  You can see, however, there’s a lot of correlation between the two lines, certainly much more than random.  There are also many more days where the coal+wind production is now higher than the exports.  It seems that wind production is pretty much ignored, not affecting either the coal production or the exports.

I don’t know the IESO makes dispatching decisions.  Maybe they have contractual obligations with the coal plants.  Maybe the coal plants have operational requirements to be run at some minimum amount.  And maybe they have to be kept around in as a last resort if something else fails.  So there may be good reasons why they have to be run even if everything they produce is surplus.  But given that coal kills “hundreds” why was the Oakville gas plant cancelled?  It could have taken over a large part of any backup responsibilities that the coal plants might have.  Plus there’s still Lennox, which hardly runs at all anymore.

In any event, what earthly purpose do the wind turbines have?  The entire lot of them could be dismantled tomorrow, with no effect on the grid, either from a fuel or an emission savings standpoint.  You could argue, I guess, that the clean energy from wind turbines allows Ontario’s neighbors to turn down their presumably dirty generation, even though there’s no evidence that indicates this is actually done.  But that seems a meager return for condemming “hundreds” of Ontarians to an early death from the coal generation – assuming Ontario’s leaders believe their own spin.

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