Canada’s wind power lobby says wind power is not only cheap, it is dependable enough to supply one-third of our power needs. Is this true? (No.)
CanWEA (Canadian Wind Energy Association) recently posted an article about an upcoming event they seem quite excited about. Apparently, “Every year, June 15 is Global Wind Day, a day to celebrate the incredible momentum of wind energy.”
CanWEA goes on to make extraordinary claims and these two top the list: “Costs have also dropped significantly in Canada, and a power auction in Alberta, in 2017, established wind energy as the most cost-competitive source of new electricity generation in Canada” and “… it could supply more than one-third of the country’s electricity without compromising grid reliability.”
Well, I just had to look into that, especially after Ontario’s experience with wind power. Thanks to Scott Luft’s data gathering from IESO and his ability to organize it nicely, it’s an easy task to see how wind performed in Ontario over the past three years.
As we are five months into 2019 let’s look back at that same period over the last three years and review wind’s performance. It is important to understand that wind generation, for some reason, gets “first-to-the -grid” rights and are also paid handsomely ($120/MWh) for curtailing their generation.
The meaning of ‘curtailment’ Starting with wind capacity*, which at the start of 2017 was about 4,460 MW with 570 MW of that embedded. At the beginning of 2018, capacity had increased to 4,900 MW with 580 MW of that embedded; at the start of 2019 we had 5,090 MW with 590 MW embedded. Wind’s capacity increased over those three years to the point where it represents over 10% of capacity.
Once industrial wind turbines represented a significant amount of capacity in Ontario, reality dawned: wind is unable to deliver generation when actually needed. This raised concerns with the grid operator, the Independent Electricity System Operator or IESO. As this situation constituted a possibility of lack of grid control, the deal struck with the wind generators was to get them to curtail their generation, when asked, in exchange for a significant payment.
When this agreement was reached, IESO began to curtail wind on a regular basis, particularly during Ontario’s low demand periods which occur during the Spring and Fall. That’s also exactly when wind generates power at its highest levels in Ontario. So, for 2017 wind developers curtailed 1,420.6 million MWh in the five months which earned them $170.5; in 2018 they curtailed 1,019.6 million MWh earning $120 million; and in 2019 curtailed 786,900 MWh which earned them $94.8 million.
Ontario’s ratepayers generously picked up the bill of almost $400 million for that curtailed generation for the first five months of each year since 2017.
Wind power generation Power generation from wind in the first five months of 2017 (either grid-accepted or distributor-accepted) was 7,080.8 million MWh; in 2018 it declined slightly to 7,027.6 million MWh. For the first five months of 2019 it increased to 7,211.7 million MWh (up 2.6%). The cost of the generation (at $135/MWh) brought costs to ratepayer of $955.9 million for 2017, $948.7 for 2018 and $973.4 for 2019.
That represents a total cost to Ontario’s ratepayers of $2.878 billion for the 21.3 TWh (terawatts) either grid- or distributor-accepted.
The total cost of wind: more than you think
So now, let’s check to see if the costs of power generation from wind are falling as claimed by CanWEA. To do that, we must add the cost of curtailed wind to the cost of what was delivered.
That cost was $3.278 billion!
Looking at 2017, the math on what it cost ratepayers for the period of the first five months of each of the last three years works out to $159.10/MWH and for 2018 slightly lower at $152.40/MWh and for 2019 it fell slightly again to $150.00/MWh.
It appears, on its own, wind generation costs in Ontario fell from 15.9 cents/kWh in 2017 to 15.0 cents/kWh in 2019.
However, not accounted for is the annual “cost of living”** increase granted to wind power operators in their contracts. Also not accounted for is the cost of back-up generation (principally gas generation paid to idle) for when the wind isn’t blowing. And other unaccounted for cost is what wind does when delivering generation out of sync with demand! It drives down the market price (HOEP) and our exported power is sold for cents on the dollar and Ontario ratepayers pick up the losses on those sales.
On top of all those other costs, excess wind power generation out of sync with demand causes hydro spillage and nuclear steam off — both of which are paid for by ratepayers!
Clearly, this demonstrates that CanWEA’s claim that wind power is cost competitive is fictitious — it isn’t!
And the other claim – that wind could supply one-third of the country’s electricity needs — is also bogus. As a recent IESO report notes, “The transmission-connected supply mix has shifted from only synchronous generation facilities to more inverter-based generation facilities (e.g., wind and solar). This change has lowered system inertia, which is a critical element that supports the secure operation of the ICG, [IESO Controlled Grid] especially during light demand conditions.” Translation: Adding more intermittent and unreliable wind power to the grid severely impacts grid stability, particularly in the spring and fall when demand (in Ontario) can fall to almost 50% of the peak demand which occurs on hot summer days or very cold winter days.
In short, “Global Wind Day” is no reason to celebrate.
*rounded **wind turbine contracts also included a cost of living annual increase to a maximum of 20% of the original contracted amount