Tag Archives: Coal

Palmer – the Real Coal Story

On January 10, 2012, the Ontario premier’s office was crowing about shutting down the remaining Ontario coal plants.  That story was picked up by sympathetic outlets.  It is expected that a politician will play loose with the facts when it suits them, but unfortunately many of the media outlets seem to not have the skills or interest to find out the real story.  Bill Palmer is in a position to know and relates it below, in more details than he did on this site earlier.  Note that Bill is politically even-handed in his criticism.


I’ve tried to respond to a number of newspaper articles and technical publications that ran this story … to date none have chosen to print my comment. However, you deserve the chance to know the truth.

Renewable generation, and in particular wind had very little to do with the reduction in the output of coal fired generators in Ontario. Here are the facts. You can refer to the attached figure if you like pictures better than words.  [The little purple line in the lower right corner is the wind production.]

In 1994, nuclear generation supplied over 90 TWh of Ontario’s electrical supply, coal supplied about 15, and hydro about 35. Performance of the nuclear plants was deteriorating in part because of political decisions made by the Bob Rae (NDP) government to minimize maintenance and give early retirement to senior staff at Ontario Hydro in the early 1990’s due to the increase in costs brought about by putting Darlington into service after the start up was delayed by a David Peterson (Liberal) government decision to hold construction and start up in the late 80’s even though most of the costs had been spent, and high interest rates continued to rack up cost of the borrowed money. The rules were (and still are) that new “hydro” construction costs are not put on the consumer bills until a new station are put into service. The Darlington “cost over-runs” were mostly due to the political decision to hold startup at a time interest rates on borrowed money were double digit.

The Mike Harris (PC) government that followed Bob Rae decided that the nuclear units at Bruce A and Pickering A would be shut down to focus improvements on the newer B stations at Pickering B, Bruce B, and Darlington. The output of the nuclear generators dropped to about 60 TWh. Coal picked up the slack, increasing in output to about 40 TWh in the early 2000’s. 2003, the year the Dalton McGuinty (Liberal) government was formed, coal supplied about 40 TWh, nuclear about 62 TWh, hydro about 35 TWh, and the Ontario demand was about 155 TWh. However, the improvements in the nuclear plants, which had been started some years before resulted in the return to service of Bruce A units 3 and 4, and Pickering A Units 1 and 4 by 2004. The nuclear output started to rise and the coal output started to fall. Then after 2004, a further surprise occurred … the Ontario demand started to fall as mines, mills, pulp and paper, and other users closed up shop, or moved out of Ontario. From 2005 to 2012, the Ontario demand dropped by about 15 TWh, nearly 10% … not from conservation, but from loss of industrial output. As nuclear output continued to increase, including in 2012 the return to service of Bruce A units 1 and 2, the nuclear output rose to over 80 TWh again. The 20 TWh increase in nuclear output, the 15 TWh loss of Ontario demand, and the start up of a number of natural gas generators, bringing their output up to 20 TWh meant there was no need to run coal …

And the 4 TWh of output from the wind generators really had just about nothing to do with the reduction in the coal generation, as the wind production is mostly when coal generators are not needed – at night, and in the spring and fall. In the hot summer, and even in the cold winter days, when wind output is low, the coal plants continue to run. They can now be shut down now as there are enough gas generators to fill in … mind you at considerably greater cost.

And that friends, is the true story … the reason coal generation could drop 40 TWh was that the nuclear units picked up over 20 TWh, the system demand dropped 15 TWh, and natural gas generators picked up about 10 TWh. The 4 TWh of wind had very little impact on shutting down coal … no matter what you read elsewhere.

Feel free to share the truth, as it needs to be known. I’ve even shared it with some of the Liberal candidates … but it does not seem to be popular to say as it runs against the spin that “coal was shut down by bringing in clean renewables.”

Bill Palmer

More on Ontario’s Exports

After my first posting on Ontario’s Exports, where I asked why Ontario was still burning coal when every bit of it was being exported, I received a note from Donald Jones, who has done a lot of digging into the details of Ontario’s operation.  Here’s his letter, which gives you an idea of just how screwed up Ontario’s electricity system is, and why renewable energy (and wind turbines specifically) are making the problems worse. Continue reading More on Ontario’s Exports

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. Continue reading Ontario’s Exports

Wind = Coal Reductions Jan

I’ve continued my series on Ontario’s failure to translate its wind production into reductions of coal production, now into its fourth month – January 2011.  This follows the earlier reports: October’s Record Days, November 2010, and October/December 2010.  In this series I’m using actual production numbers to see if more wind production ever leads to less coal production.  So far during these three months there’s been no connection between the two – leading one to conclude that the IESO ignores the wind output and essentially exports whatever wind production there is, at whatever wholesale price that exists at that time (which fairly often falls below zero, where you are paying people to take it).  For the first time the R-squared value, which is a reflection of how much of a relationship exists between the wind and coal production numbers, climbed above 0.05, to a still-unimpressive 0.08.  Unfortunately, the relationship was in the wrong direction – as wind increased, so did coal.  Oops.

I have now studied 4 traditionally windy months – where if a relationship existed it would likely have been found.  Here’s the chart.

Wind = Coal Reductions NOT

In a recent posting I discussed the actual Ontario results of their 1200MW wind energy capacity upon their coal production.  I used the most recent month, November 2010, and while there was a slight decline in coal production vis-a-vis an increase in wind production, it was so far buried in the day-to-day variations that whatever savings existed disappeared.  I also will be quick to point out that even if there were production savings it does not necessarily follow (regardless of what the AWEA says) that there are consumption or emissions savings.  But without production savings it is difficult to see how there could be any other types of savings.

Anyway, I thought maybe using hourly figures instead of the daily figures I used in that posting would show a trend more clearly.  So I ran November again with the hourly numbers and the results were pretty much the same, with the r-squared going from an insignificant 0.02 to an almost equally insignificant 0.04.  The spreadsheet is available – just ask – but there’s so many points on the resulting chart that it didn’t seem useful to publish it.  From now on I’ll stick to using daily numbers, as they seem to fairly represent the reality – and doing the hourly numbers is quite a bit of work for little additional information.

And then I wondered if November was a particularly good or bad month to show any relationship.  So I went back to October 2010 and ran the numbers again.  Here’s the results.

As insignificant as any savings in November were, the savings in October are even more insignificant.  Notice that the linear shows a very slight positive slope.    So now we have two months’ data and both are in pretty close agreement that at least in Ontario wind production does not lead to any reduction in coal production.  And since nobody even pretends that wind production leads to a reduction in gas production – if you don’t have coal savings you have no savings.

I also have to mention that a couple of days in October made the news due to their exceptionally good production numbers, and of course I commented on how even that good production didn’t lead to any reduction in fossil fuel use.  That 3-day ineffectiveness also applies for the entire month.

Update, January 1, 2011.  Happy New Year!  I celebrated by going through December’s numbers to see if the IESO did any better at using the wind production to cut down on coal production.  Almost needless to say, the results for December echoed October and November – which is to say wind production seems to have no effect on coal production.  As I’ve written earlier, you might as well be digging holes as putting up wind turbines.

Wind = Coal Reductions?

The powers that be in Ontario (McGuinty, the Premier, and Duguid, the Minister of Energy) have prominently mentioned that getting rid of coal is the prime benefit to installing all the wind turbines.  One thing missing from their statements is any mention of how much coal is actually saved by installing wind. In an earlier posting I dug into the numbers behind a couple of exceptionally good days for wind energy production and discovered all that wind energy didn’t translate noticeably to a reduction in coal consumption, let alone a reduction in emissions (a topic I covered in another earlier posting as well.  But it struck me that maybe sampling 3 days wasn’t really fair; that maybe I ought to take a look at an entire month.  So I took a look at the actual operating experience in the last full month – November 2010 – and while an argument could be made that coal consumption was reduced, it was so small as to disappear into the noise. Continue reading Wind = Coal Reductions?

Rather Live by a Coal Plant?

In many public discussions about wind turbines and the nuisance they create there seems to be a variant of Godwin’s law: the longer the discussion goes on, the closer to 1.0 the odds on someone mentioning living next to a coal plant. From Nova Scotia there was this item [backup link] about the Frasers, who are having tremendous problems with seven wind turbines built too close to their house. No new news about that, but what interested me was that they also lived not just next to the turbines, but also next to the existing coal plant. They’d been happily living next to the coal plant for some years, even built their house there after that plant was there. But the wind turbines proved too much.

I know this is just one data point, but here’s some actual evidence that one family would rather live by a coal plant than by wind turbines.