Do wind turbines contribute to flooding?

A look at how water flows are managed brings up a few questions …

[ Ashley Fraser/Postmedia]
The Government of Ontario recently announced their plans to initiate “an internal task force that will consult with our municipal partners and other stakeholders in impacted areas on ways to improve the province’s resilience to flooding.” The announcement occurred as many areas in Ontario experienced water levels approaching the 2017 levels. Since then water levels in Lake Ontario have surpassed those of 2017 as noted in the Democrat & Chronicle: “The water level in Lake Ontario hit a modern-day high on Friday, exceeding by a sliver the record set just two years ago.”

Flooding in Lake Ontario is not a new event as that story noted: it “has happened in seven spring-summer periods since 1918, when record-keeping began: 1993, 1974, 1973, 1952, 1951, 1947 and 1943. The lake’s waters rose very close to 248 feet* on four other occasions dating as far back as 1929.”

The parties involved in managing water levels are numerous and include the IJC (International Joint Commission) which controls the Moses-Saunders dam between Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, New York. That dam controls the water levels in the Great Lakes to try and prevent flooding along the St. Lawrence River.

As well, the Ottawa River Planning Board was established to ensure integrated management of the principal reservoirs of the Ottawa River Basin.  Members on this Board include representation from OPG and Hydro Quebec as well as Federal Government members.  Interestingly, IESO, who manage Ontario’s electricity grid, are not members; yet on a minute by minute basis, IESO determine the flows for generation and spillage of almost all hydro dams in Ontario.

As if all this wasn’t enough to create complexity in water management, back in December 2016 the IJC adopted “Plan 2014” aimed at increasing “wetlands” in the Great Lakes. It was endorsed by Prime Minister Trudeau and President Obama.  Its effect was aimed at raising lake levels to create wetlands after lobbying efforts by people who thought this was good for the environment.  The IJC said, the lake will often be a bit higher than it had been in the spring and fall, and roughly the same in summertime.

Now the IJC and all the other bodies involved in managing the water levels are blaming good old “Mother Nature” for the 2017 and 2019 events! The floods occurred despite the record snowfalls being reported by weather stations throughout the first three months of 2019. Record snowfalls generally signal major spring runoffs.

So, let’s look at 2019 and review the first three months of specific electricity generation in Ontario and compare it to the same three months in 2017 to see what might be different and determine if it raises a question—did wind power generation play a role in causing flooding in 2019?

If you look at the IESO’s “Generator Output by Fuel Type Monthly Report” for the first three months of 2017 you see grid-accepted wind power generation was 3,462.5 GWh (gigawatt hours); in 2019 it was 3,919.7 GWh or 12.9% higher.  Curtailed wind** on the other hand decreased from 635.7 GWh to 225.2 GWh which was a decrease of 410.5 GWh or 64.4%.   Coincidentally, that decrease was almost equal to the higher grid-accepted wind amount and also coincidentally quite close to the decrease in SBG (surplus baseload generation) spillage by hydro dams as noted below.

Looking at grid-accepted hydro for those three months, we note in 2017 it was 9,544.1 GWh and in 2019 was 9,787.5 GWh, an increase of only 243.4 GWh or 2.6%. Hydro spillage for SBG in 2019 was 0.3 TWh (terawatt hours) whereas in 2017 it was 0.8 TWh (also in 2018), a drop of 0.5 TWh or 64%.

So another question is: why was SBG spillage in the first three of 2019 about 500 GWh less, while Ontario’s demand during those same three months was up by 1,411.1 GWh?

One would expect when a major spring melt is anticipated, reducing water levels in reservoirs from mid-February into March would be the accepted practice in order to alleviate flooding later. The spring melt from tributaries deliver the melted snow to places like the Ottawa River basin where its funneled for run-off or held in those reservoirs.

For the 2019 flooding, the question becomes: did IESO favour industrial wind turbines (IWT) over either increased hydro generation or reduced spillage? OPG is paid for SBG spillage as are IWT developments for curtailed wind.  Paying for curtailed wind while allowing more hydro generation and/or spillage may well have resulted in less flood damage costs which in 2017 were estimated at $200 million!  This year’s cost could be higher.

One would hope the Ontario government’s “internal task force” investigates the above issues to more effectively understand all the reasons for the excess flooding and not simply blame “Mother Nature”!


*Refers to “above sea level”.

**Thanks to Scott Luft who tracks both grid-accepted and distributed curtailed wind.

Author: parkergallantenergyperspectivesblog

Retired international banker.

10 thoughts on “Do wind turbines contribute to flooding?”

  1. Seriously, Parker, I almost don’t know what to say. Demand was up substantially. Normally that should mean SBG spill is down, and wind curtailment is down. That’s not because they are keeping the water behind the reservoirs, or turning the wind turbines away from the wind. It’s because they’re using the water and the wind to produce power to meet the higher demand. Even with the big jump in demand, some water still had to be spilled.

    Did you think that hydro dams should prioritize flood abatement instead of power generation, at least more than the current operating rules provide? If they had spilled a lot more water, wouldn’t that mean the price of electricity would go up, and you would then complain about that?

    And then you say that, because the hydroelectric facilities didn’t spill water, but used it to produce more electricity, somehow wind power is causing flooding. Why, because the wind wasn’t blowing enough? Or, was it because the nuclear facilities were under repair and not available?

    I’m sorry, but the system appears to have worked exactly as designed. There was increased demand, and therefore there was increased need for hydroelectric generation and thus less SBG spill.

    Increased flooding in recent years is in part cyclical, and in part the result of climate change impacts. Of course, it is carbon-free renewables like wind and solar and hydroelectric that are on the front line to fight climate change.

    Maybe I’ve just misunderstood your argument. As I read your article, you appear to be showing that more wind generation would have been better.


    1. Jay, I could have included a lot more information in the article than I did but for brevity’s sake I did my best to just keep it short and to the point. Based on your response perhaps I should have included more.

      Demand was up and you used the word “substantially” but total demand (including net exports) was up by 1.142 TWh which equates to a 2.9% increase which I would suggest is not substantial. As one example if you review some of the IESO data say for just the Des Joachims dam (475 MW capacity) on the Ottawa River you will note in March it was generating much less than it was in January and February. One wonders why when we knew the Ottawa river valley and its northern tributaries experienced record snowfall. I presume you are aware OPG have in excess of 1,500 MW of capacity in Eastern Ontario without including Saunders (1045 MW).

      My contacts within the “conservation authorities” advised me that because of the weather we were experiencing in late February, early March with temperatures slightly above zero in the day and below freezing in the night the melt seemed to be ideal and acting in an almost controlled fashion. Perhaps that was simply mother nature fooling them as when the weather turned milder the flood conditions suddenly appeared and it got worse as the milder weather moved north and started melting other snow belts. With the reservoirs full the runoff finds its way into Lake Ontario. The Saunders dam (noted in the article) is controlled by the IJT and will restrict the flow if it will cause flooding along the St. Lawrence. That is a hard fact that presumably IESO and all the others involved knew about. It’s that “brick wall” we all experience during our life! The “2014 Plan” endorsed by the Trudeau/Obama team simply added more rows to the brick wall!

      As a matter of fact, I do think during the spring freshet hydro dams should have flood abatement at the top of the list and that presumably is a matter that IESO should play a role in; as they control both generation and spillage. If those dams had spilled more water or generated more electricity in late February and throughout March it would have created more reservoir capacity in April/May which should have had a positive effect on the ensuing flood levels.

      Allowing hydro to generate more while holding back wind generation would have played much better in respect to flooding levels and would have cost only marginally more as compared to the damage costs done by flooding. It was estimated at $200 million in 2017 and my guess is that it has caused house insurance premium rates to rise.
      Flooding as the article noted is not a new phenomenon and has occurred many times and decades before anyone coined the term “climate change”.


    2. From the numbers I see output hydro sites on that watershed was the 3rd lowest since 2006. Feel free to do your own analysis – nubw included Lower Notch, Holden, Des Joachims, Chenaux, Mountain Chute, Barrett, Stewartville. Arnprior, and Chats Falls.

      It’s really not a hugely imaginative to ponder a connection between holding back water to better match electricity supply needs later in the year and the increase in a sporadic generation source that produces much more in colder weather.

      It’s also boldly unintelligent to pontificate, “Increase flooding in recent years is…in part the result of climate change impacts.” In 2013 the elite’s Corportate Knights wrote that the Great Lakes region was facing the insidious risk of climate change: “The symptoms – low water levels…” A couple of years later the soon-to-be-late, oft adored as great, Mowat Centre was publishing “Low Water Blues” – I recall quite the launch event for that one – with the publisher of the Toronto Star.

      If you’re now going to opine that climate change is driving flooding maybe you should pay some attention to how water levels are being managed.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Scott, do you really think that there is no connection between climate change and increased flooding events? Because, you know, I’m not a scientist, so I don’t “opine” anything myself, but almost every scientist I’ve read says there is a connection between flooding events and climate change.

        Now, maybe you are a scientist? (Are you?) Or, maybe you have data that shows that there is a causal connection between wind generation and flooding (i.e. empirical analysis, rather than speculation with no causal basis). In either of those cases, you might be able to show that it is those damned wind turbines that are causing people to lose their homes to flooding. Show us, if you have the evidence.

        Wait. You can’t demonstrate that? Do you not understand that correlation and causation are different things? Do you have ANY actual evidence that wind generation causes flooding?

        There are lots of legitimate arguments, pro and con, about various generation options. They are based on data, and on rigorous analysis. Nothing here is black and white, and everyone (including me) believes there are arguments on both sides. You don’t need to manufacture completely speculative arguments as well. Stick to factual analysis.


      2. Threading doesn’t seem to allow me to respond to Jay’s response directly, so I’ll just expand on this a little – I don’t think the man comprehends much anyway.
        If you believed climate change would cause increased flooding – and you might if you read stuff like “Canada’s Changing Climate Report”, but you’d also know there’s not perfect confidence in that from statements like, “Projected higher temperatures will result in a shift toward earlier floods associated with spring snowmelt, ice jams, and rain-on-snow events (medium confidence).”
        I’m okay with all that.

        So once more, Jay the lawyer, if you really, honestly believed in the danger of earlier floods – and not simply being a pious jerk feigning to be on the side of wisdom – would you run less water through the dams in the winter months, as they just did?

        Are you an capable of answering – or do you need to phone a “scientist” (maybe one of the “Low Water Blues” crew is now available to advise)

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Jay, take some time out of your busy day and watch this FB discussion between Doug Antler and his daughter on her FB page. He basically helped to manage the Ottawa river spring flows in conjunction with OPG for many years and for all that time there were never floods. He highlights what changed to create the current mess and guess what he didn’t suggest it had anything to do with “climate change” but does strongly suggest poor flood management. Find it here;


  2. I agree wit Parker: I have been following Sygration (Rodan Generating Report),since January 2016. The months preceeding the flooding in 2017, The Hydro Dams were running at 20 to 50 % capacity Of the potential 8,346 Mega watts the Dams can produce at any time during the day, hourly production ranged from approx 2700 MW to 4000 MW. Several did not run at all on a daily basis. Once Flooding started along the Ottawa, all of a sudden, the Hydro Dams were running at near to full capacity. The Same thing happened in 2019 Three to four months prior to the flooding, the majority of the Dams were running at 20 50 % capacity. Once the flooding began, they all of a sudden were producing a near to capacity.

    Liked by 1 person

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