Should the Pickering nuclear plant be closed? Not based on cost and performance…

Pickering: working at 95% capacity during the heat wave [Photo: OPG]
July 6, 2018

Wind power a failure during recent high demand during heat wave; dependable power needed

I got a call at 11 a.m. on June 25th from the producer of the Scott Thompson show on CHML 900 AM to appear on the show to discuss the suggestion by NDP leader Andrea Horwath about closing the Pickering Nuclear plant.

Essentially it was about her statement during the election campaign indicating the NDP’s position on Pickering:  “we will begin the decommissioning process immediately, which will bring more jobs to the area — as opposed to the Liberal plan, which is to mothball that facility for 30 years and allow the next generation to figure out the decommissioning”.

Doug Ford, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, on the other hand stated: “The Pickering plant can continue to safely operate until at least 2024. We can generate 14 per cent of Ontario’s power needs right here”.

The producer suggested Scott wanted to explore the opposing issues with me.

Aware I was scheduled to be on his show at 12:35 p.m., and remembering that a Brady Yauch article a few months earlier in the Financial Post had suggested closing Pickering, I felt I should do more research before the call back.  Brady’s principal point was Pickering was a poor performer and the estimated costs ($300 million) of the extension would prove to be negative for ratepayers.

OPG’s website describes Pickering as follows: “Pickering Nuclear has six operating CANDU® (CANadian Deuterium Uranium) reactors. The station has a total output of 3,100 megawatts (MW) which is enough to serve a city of one and a half million people, and about 14 per cent of Ontario’s electricity needs.”.

Pickering Nuclear traces its roots back to 1971 when it first commenced operation with four units and expanded to eight units in 1983.  Two of the first four units have been in voluntary lay-up since 1997.  The CNSC (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) awarded OPG’s Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations its highest safety rating in 2017.

Combined, the Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations generated 10.4 TWh (terawatts) of power for the 1st Quarter of 2018 at a combined cost of 7.2 cents/kWh (up from 5.8 cents/kWh in the comparable quarter).  The 10.4 TWh was sufficient to supply the 4.6 million average residential households in the province.

Directing my research to IESO’s hourly Generator Report I was able to discern Pickering at hour 10 of June 25th had just generated 2,308 MWh out of 10,457 MWh produced by all the nuclear plants in the province.  Pickering nuclear represented 22% of nuclear generation at that hour, 15.6% of Ontario demand and 14% of total demand (including exports).   At hour 10, wind turbines were generating 452 MWh or 10% of their capacity versus Pickering nuclear which was operating at about 74.5% of its capacity.

Both nuclear and wind are classified as “base-load” generation!

As it turned out, when I was on Scott’s show the bulk of our chat was related to his prior guest’s discussions about Premier Ford’s cancellation of the “cap and trade” tax.  Only a couple of questions were raised about Pickering which I responded to.

Interestingly enough, now that the Ontario July heat wave has passed, I felt the urge to look at the performance of Pickering and IWT over the seven days when peak demand was high.  Pickering nuclear performed well generating close to 3,000 MWh each and every hour over the period meaning it was operating at over 95% of capacity.  Wind power generation, however was all over the map reaching a high of 2,769 MWh (62% of capacity) at midnight July 1st and a low of 5 MWh (0.11% of capacity) at 10AM on July 4th!

It is obvious that wind fails miserably as “base-load” generation when needed and the relative cost of generating power (sans back-up costs) is over 17 cents/kWh.

It sure looks like we should keep Pickering nuclear operating, as Premier Ford suggested.

Parker Gallant

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Electricity planning in Ontario: bad and getting worse

Ontario Energy Minister Thibeault: he really believes this stuff?

From all appearances, Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault sincerely believes Premier Wynne’s plan to reduce our hydro bills is the right one and the opposition parties have got it all wrong.

Shortly after Premier Wynne and her loyal servant Glenn Thibeault announced the Liberals’ “Fair Hydro Plan” Andrea Horwath, leader of the NDP, announced their plan. Thibeault had this to say about the NDP’s plans to repurchase Hydro One shares: “Buying back $4 billion in Hydro One shares is costly, he added, and ‘will not take one cent off electricity bills. What it will do is send billions to the stock market instead of making much needed infrastructure investments in communities across Ontario.’ ”

When PC MPP Vic Fedeli suggested diverting our surplus power to local businesses so they can create jobs, instead of exporting it to U.S. states at staggeringly low prices* Thibeault lashed out, saying that was  “back-of-the-napkin” thinking.  Thibeault did admit Ontario “doesn’t have sufficient electricity demand at home to use up the electricity we export to other markets.”

This begs the question: why does the Energy Minister not cancel contracts recently awarded (LRP 1) and permanently cancel plans (LRP 2) to add more renewables that will be surplus due to insufficient demand and plant closures.  In respect to the latter, demand will continue to be insufficient as the recent announcements about the closing of the Proctor and Gamble plant (500 employees) in Brockville and the Siemens plant in Tillsonburg (340 employees), just to name two, will further reduce demand.

The Siemens announcement undermines the Green Energy Act which the Liberals originally touted as destined to create 50,000 jobs, but fell miserably short of that goal. In fact it cost Ontario jobs as suggested by former Ontario Auditor General McCarter in his 2011 report.

Thibeault might also stop directing IESO to spend $400 million annually on conservation programs which further reduces demand, but at a cost that is added to ratepayer bills and negatively affects export sale prices.*

Now, when Minister Thibeault or Premier Wynne speak about the Liberal Plan, they revert to the main “Fair Hydro Plan” talking point which is “This is the largest rate cut in Ontario history”.  What Minister Thibeault always fails to note is Ontario’s ratepayers have experienced the largest rate increases in history thanks to the GEA’s passage in 2009!  He also fails to acknowledge the future costs due to the Fair Hydro Plan which will push rates up well past those before the “largest rate cut in Ontario history”.   That cost (subject to balanced budgets) according to the Financial Accountability Office will be $45 billion versus a benefit of $24 billion.  That $45 billion will easily drive up electricity rates and represents in excess of two years of current total electricity costs.

Amortized over 10 years we should expect annual rate increases well in excess of 10%.   At that time, all ratepayers will be exposed to the Ontario Liberal government’s incredibility bad planning!

Parker Gallant

* For the first six months of 2017 IESO report the sales price for surplus exports was $14.93 a megawatt hour (MWh) or 1.49 cents a kWh which is close to 10% of what it costs to produce. Ontario’s ratepayers pay for the losses via their monthly bills