Hot air

(July 8, 2010) Michael Trebilcock reveals the poor performance of wind power during Ontario’s recent heat wave.

During the recent heat wave that has blanketed Ontario and increased demand on the electricity system to near record levels, consider the following two facts. On Monday July 5th, a major power outage in downtown Toronto crippled much of the city for several hours due to failure of aging transmission system infrastructure. Second, on Wednesday, July 7th, the Independent Electricity System Operator reported that fuels used to meet demand between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon in sweltering temperatures were as follows:

Nuclear:        9321 MW
Hydro:          3802 MW
Gas:               5389 MW
Coal:              5019 MW
Wind:            46 MW (of about 1,100 MW installed capacity on the transmission system)
Other:           1381 MW

In other words, wind power generated less than 0.2 percent of total output, or 4 percent of its installed capacity, rendering a system under peak load almost completely dependent on conventional forms of electricity generation.

These two observations reveal the enormous importance of ensuring the reliability of our electricity system—a challenge that is particularly acute when the system is under stress at peak times—in very hot or very cold weather. Wind power completely fails the test of ensuring the reliable generation of electricity.

When the wind does not blow, the power does not get generated. As we add more wind power to the system, the reliability of the entire system will be placed at increasingly severe risk.

The disastrous consequences of the Ontario government’s massive financial commitment to wind power are becoming increasingly clear by the day. First, it costs two or three times as much as conventionally generated forms of electricity, resulting in an increase of several hundred dollars a year (or about 25 percent) in average households’ electricity bills. Second, despite the government’s claims that it will create green jobs, higher electricity costs for industrial, commercial, and residential consumers are likely to kill more jobs than wind power creates. Third, wind power will make no significant contribution to reducing CO2 emissions from electricity generation in the province, because it is totally dependent on the availability at all times of conventional forms of electricity generation (as the above data dramatically illustrates).

The government has now committed us to a massive number of 20-year fixed-price contracts with wind developers totaling in excess of $20 billion, along with close to another $10 billion in transmission grid enhancements to connect these turbines to the grid (rather than investing additional resources in upgrading the existing system). To put these numbers in perspective, these commitments (around $30 billion in total) exceed the entire provincial budget deficit ($20 billion).

More hard facts and less hot air are desperately needed in debates about current renewable energy policy in Ontario.

Michael Trebilcock is a Professor of Law and Economics at the University of Toronto.

Michael Trebilcock, July 8, 2010,

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